Yet again another year seems to have slipped by, Christmas trees are suddenly appearing in the High Streets, and the shops are starting to fill with all the paraphernalia of the festive season.
As well as the supermarkets groaning under the weight of all the food and the shops and markets encouraging us to buy presents for our nearest and dearest, many people are beginning to think about decorating both the insides and outsides of their homes with lights. With strings of electric lights draped over trees, alongside a vast array of other baubles, it’s a wonder the national grid can cope with the extra load.
But while they may look pretty, it pays to be careful and be safe around electrics.
Looking at the outside decorations, they certainly brighten up the landscape during what can often be a dreary time of year. But if you are installing them, it’s essential to do so safely, particularly as we have had so much rain this autumn, and everywhere outside is soaked.
All outdoor electrically powered equipment must be fitted with a residual circuit breaker (RCD), which cuts off the supply when a fault occurs. Also avoid trailing leads and extension leads that can become a trip hazard.
Check all cables and leads for wear and tear before use. If they have been stored in an outside shed it is possible they may have attracted the attention of vermin. If the wires show any signs of having been chewed or have any exposed wires, get them seen to or replace them as otherwise they can be lethal.
Likewise, if the outer insulation material is damaged, or crazed by prolonged exposure to sunlight, get the cable repaired properly, or replace it. A proper repair must be waterproof as water is a very good conductor of electricity, and can be lethal, particularly if touched by human hand when live.
When buying new equipment, make sure it’s the best quality you can afford and buy from a reputable manufacturer. It must have a manufacturers label, or kitemark safety symbol.
If you are installing equipment outside, never use electric tools in wet or damp conditions. If you are working on, or servicing outdoor equipment, it is essential it is disconnected at the plug before you start. If you are connecting two extension cables together, make sure you use Industrial Range IP44 type plugs, as they are waterproof.
Are you burying cables around the garden? If you are, ensure you protect the cables from external sources of damage. Small domestic cables can be sheathed in a hosepipe. Permanent installations should either use Steel Wire Armoured cable, or if low voltage cables, jelly cable. Both types act to prevent you from being shocked if you accidentally try and cut the cable at a later date. It helps to know what is in the ground already when burying a new cable in the garden as it not much fun trying to put a spade or a pickaxe through an existing supply.
If you are putting a large number of light fittings out, try if possible 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. Also, work out the total load required to run your scheme. Is your mains supply large enough to cope with the extra load you plan to impose on the system, whilst still running the house electrics? Or will the fuses blow every time you put the microwave on? If you have to put new fuse wire into the fuse box, consider upgrading and modernising the system with motorised circuit breakers (MCB’s).
Moving to the inside electrical fittings, even low voltage lights give off heat whilst operating. Christmas tree lights tend to be left on for weeks on end so don’t put anything next to it which is flammable.
It’s also a good idea not to overload one socket even with an extension socket but instead use a number of plug to spread the load.
Make sure you can afford to run the lights you install. Electricity bills have soared over the last few months and with the latest price hikes about to hit our pockets, it could end up being very expensive.
Lastly, if you are slightly unsure of what you are doing with regards to installing Christmas lighting circuits, do not hesitate to contact a suitably qualified electrician. A few pounds spent now, may save hundreds of pounds in the future, should your existing electrical system heat up, burn out and resulting in complete replacement.
Follow these rules, and hopefully, you will have a happy and illuminating festive season.