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Holiday lights plugged in to power strips

Seasonal safety tips that may surprise you

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    ’Tis the season when commercial and residential buildings come alive with twinkling lights and holiday decorations. Suddenly, the “everyday” becomes something magical - or something tragic if electrical and fire safety is not top of mind. 

    Here are some tips - many from the Codes and Standards of the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) - that every building owner or occupant should heed to have a happy, healthy holiday.

    Light up and decorate safely

    Prevent light string overloads. Always follow the manufacturer’s limits for the maximum number of light strings that are connected to prevent string overloads. 

    Put down the office stapler! Do not affix light strings to the wall using staples or other sharp products not specifically designed for securing wire that could puncture them and damage the wire insulation.

    Retire lights within 90 days. Decorative lighting is not designed for continuous, yearlong use. Strands should be used no more than 90 days to avoid short-circuits. A 2021 NFPA study found fires caused by electrical malfunctions were responsible for a large share of direct property damage at over 21%.

    Make these areas off limits. Do not hang holiday decorations - ornaments, banners, lights - from a ceiling where they could obstruct an automatic water sprinkler spray pattern. Attaching anything to a sprinkler runs the very real risk of breaking the element, resulting in an extreme amount of water damage. Even hanging things from the sprinkler pipe is against fire codes, as pulling or tugging could result in a leak or a break in the pipe connections. 

    Guard against electrical hazards

    Keep it snug. Check wall electrical outlets to make sure their internal spring tension clips are tight so that cords can fit snugly. A loose connection can leave exposed electrical prongs that could start a fire or even give you an electrical shock while unplugging.

    Know your cords. Plug extension cords directly into an approved GFCI outlet. Make sure only one is used per portable appliance and has a maximum current (ampacity) equal to or greater than the appliance. Also, do not plug a multi-plug adapter into an extension cord. It should only be plugged directly into a wall electrical outlet. And do not plug a surge protector into another surge protector.

    Location. Location. Location. Place extension cords wisely. Do not subject them to environmental or physical damage. Do not affix them to structures, extend them through walls, ceilings, or floors, or under doors or floor coverings. 

    Get the right product. Make sure to use UL or other NRTL (Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory) designated electrical products. 

    Avoid fires with system checks

    Check for fire hazards. Conduct a seasonal check of the heating system, especially on the flue pipe that connects to the chimney, to ensure there are no potential fire issues.

    Test smoke detectors. Make sure they’re operating well and are not more than 10 years old. Consider installing photoelectric smoke detectors with 10-year lithium batteries. If using combination fire/CO detectors, use units that have the “talking” feature.

    Whether they were new to you or not, please keep these fire safety tips in mind this holiday season. They’ll help ensure that your space and anyone who enters it will be well protected.

    All recommendations are general guidelines and are not intended to be exhaustive or complete, nor are they designed to replace information or instructions from the manufacturer of your products or equipment. Consult a professional where appropriate.

    Case story: Up in flames

    A live holiday tree sparkling with incandescent string lights created a festive holiday atmosphere for residents who entered the lobby of a high-rise condominium complex. Bought fresh with a wood X for a stand, it was never transferred to a tree stand that held water. It quickly began to dry out, especially since the non-LED lights ran hot and were on 24/7. The sparkle quickly turned to an intense blaze that was felt for a distance. Witnesses said they thought someone had set off a bomb in the lobby because it went up in flames so fast, causing a horrific sound. Here are some ways to avoid this tragedy.

    Tree safety for commercial buildings

    Consider an alternative to a live tree. Businesses may not be the best place for a live tree, as they may not be attended to as carefully as they should. 

    Live tree? Follow these tips. Appoint a specific person to water the tree, and keep water in the stand at all times. Avoid placing it near ventilation systems to avoid smoke damage in the entire building should a fire breakout. Use only LED string lights designed specifically for trees, not the older, hotter incandescent lights.

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