Electrical safety and Christmas, do they go together?

The phrase “Let there be light” is never more apt than at Christmas time.  

Even before the arrival of December, many homes across the country are already festooned with a multitude of lights and illuminated decorations to herald in the festive season. 

And while some prefer the scattergun approach of decorating every square inch of their home with lights in all the colours of the rainbow, others may prefer the less is more approach with merely a few twinkly strings on the tree in the house. 

But whether you are planning to make a statement by replicating the Blackpool illuminations or opting for something rather more subtle and modest, safety is key.  

So, here are our top tips to make sure your lights don’t go quite literally with a bang. 

Firstly, check your mains supply is large enough to cope with the extra load whilst still running the house electrics. You don’t want the fuses to blow every time you put the kettle on! 

Onto the lights themselves, if you have existing sets, whether for indoor or outdoor use, chances are they have been tucked away in the loft for the best part of a year, so make sure they are in good working order. 

Check all cables and leads for wear and tear. Quite often these fittings can be several years old and over time start to fray. If they have been stored in a shed, it is possible rodents have chewed through to leave exposed wires and if they are then connected to mains electricity it can be lethal. 

Also check the bulbs themselves and if any need replacing only do so with the same type and rating as the original. 

If buying a new set, make sure it is good quality and from a reputable manufacturer. Look for a manufacturer’s label, or kitemark safety symbol and if in doubt, don’t buy it. 

Once you’ve given them the OK, don’t put all the lights on one three-pin extension socket. This could easily overload the system. Instead, spread them over a number of plugs and remember trailing leads and extension cables can become a trip hazard. 

Then think about how long they are switched on for. Even low voltage lights give off heat whilst operating so don’t put anything flammable close by or leave them on when you go to bed or go out. 

When it comes to outside lighting, similar safety rules apply.  

Firstly, it is essential all outdoor electrically powered equipment is fitted with a residual circuit breaker (RCD)which cuts off the supply when a fault occurs. 

And it goes without saying never use electric tools in wet or damp conditions and always disconnect the power source before you start. 

If you are connecting two extension cables together, make sure you use Industrial Range IP44 type plugs.  

For new installations think about whether you have to bury cables around the garden? If you do, make sure you protect them from external sources of damage.  Small domestic cables can be sheathed in a hosepipe.   

Check to see if the outer insulation material is damaged, or crazed by prolonged exposure to sunlight, and if it is, ensure it is either repaired properly, or replaced. A proper repair must be waterproof. Water is a very good conductor of electricity, and can be lethal, particularly if touched by human hand when live. 

Also, when burying a new cable in the garden, make sure you know what is in the ground already.  It is not much fun trying to put a spade or a pickaxe through an existing supply! 

Permanent installations should either use steel wire armoured cable, or low voltage cables, both of which prevent you from being shocked if you accidentally try and cut it at a later date.   

If you are putting a large number of light fittings out, try to use low voltage lights. If something does go wrong, and you accidentally receive an electrical shock, a low voltage shock will not kill you.  

Finally, make sure you can afford to run all the lights you use. Electricity prices have soared recently, and these decorations are not cheap to run! 

And without being a Christmas Scrooge about it all, think also about the environmental impact of running the lights. Whilst you may not see the power source, somewhere it is likely that a fossil fuel will be burnt to generate the electricity you need to run them, thus generating carbon dioxide. 

Most importantly, if you are slightly unsure of what you are doing, get a suitably qualified electrician in. A few pounds spent now, may save hundreds of pounds later, and stop your existing electrical system heating up or burning out, and resulting in complete replacement. 

Follow these rules, and hopefully, you will have a happy and safe festive season!