Safety Sense

Holiday Home Electrical Tips


by S. Joseph Goble, Retired Building Inspector, Chairman, Public Relations Committee, Virginia Chapter International Association of Electrical Inspectors


The Virginia Chapter, International Association of Electrical Inspectors, wants you and your family to be safe and free from electrical hazards during the holiday season and offers these safety tips for your home.

Always test your ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) and arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) before you plug in your decorations. Ground-fault circuit interrupters protect you from shock in wet areas, while arc-fault circuit interrupters protect conductors from shorts and arcing caused by damaged wiring and loose connections.

Testing them will let you know two things — one, whether your GFCI or AFCI is working properly; and two, when you plug in your decoration, if your GFCI or AFCI trips, you will know the decoration is faulty and should be discarded or checked by a licensed electrician. Another good device is called an in-use outdoor-receptacle cover. This protects the cord and receptacle from the weather when the cord is plugged in.

Be sure extension cords are the right size for your need. If an extension cord is to be used outside, use one rated for outdoors that’s the right length. Never plug one extension cord into another to extend cord length. This may cause an unwanted voltage drop, damaging your electrical equipment. And never, ever run extension cords under carpeting or in front of doorways where they become tripping hazards. No type of cord should ever be run through doorways or windows where they may become pinched. If a cord is missing the ground prong, the cord should be discarded.

Receptacles should accept cords firmly and snugly. If the cord fits loosely or hangs out where the blades are exposed, this is a fire and shock hazard. Faulty receptacles need to be replaced. Check all cover plates to be sure they are tight and not cracked or broken. Use child-proof inserts in all unused accessible receptacles to protect young children from inserting objects into the receptacle.

Smoke detectors need servicing just like your automobile. During the holiday season when you have your ladder out to install decorations is the perfect time to replace the batteries in all of your smoke detectors, and to vacuum or blow them clean. Smoke detectors collect dust and need regular cleaning. Replacing the battery once a year is a good practice. During winter storms you may lose power, but with fresh batteries your smoke detectors will still function.

Always inspect your decoration cords for cuts, nicks or burn spots. If they are damaged, discard. Always follow manufacturer’s installation instructions; be mindful of use limits. We also recommend insulated staples when installing decorations on your home. These help prevent nicks and cuts in the insulation. Remember outdoor decorations move with the wind, and this movement can wear away at un-insulated staples.

Plan your decorations carefully so as not to overload your electrical system, but also to avoid overhead wires. Aluminum ladders should never be used near overhead wires; you should maintain at least 10 feet from wiring attached to your home. Accidents happen quickly. After the holidays are over, be sure to take down your decorations. Most decorations are not designed for long exposure to the elements. They can become brittle, lose their insulation and become fire or shock hazards.

Finally, when doing home improvements or repairs, always use licensed electrical contractors so they may obtain proper permits, and be sure all work is inspected by your local inspection department. Talk to your local building official for more information when permits are required. Simple repairs may not need permits.

For more safety tips and safety checklists, please visit our website at Promoting electrical safety is our goal.


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