The “Shocking” Truth About Christmas Decorations

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Electrical breakers tripping, wall outlets arcing, warm to the touch extension cords, lights fluttering and the dreaded electrical burn smell when you walk through a room are the only warnings given by your electrical system that something is very wrong.

“The fact is that homeowners won’t know if they are in danger until it’s too late,” said Justin Enquist a second generation Master Electrician. (The certification of Master Electrician is the highest level of certification an electrician can be awarded.)

“Christmas time can push your electrical system further than other seasons,” Justin said because “people tend to use an abundance of extension cords as well as overload one or two electrical outlets. Too many extension cords can cause the plug in connections to work loose. If the connection is not secure there is a greater chance of overheating and arcing that over time will cause the wires to melt and cause a fire. They often buy unrated cheap extension cords and when is the last time they checked their outlets to see if they are dirty, rusted or corroded by time.”

Newer homes or electrical systems that have been updated in older homes in the past 15 to 20 years will most likely be significantly safer.

“The breaker will trip and shut off the flow of electricity to the outlet. It is really the only way a homeowner will know that something is wrong. This is a significant signal that the electrical system is not functioning properly and it should not be ignored. An electrician should be called to check why the breaker tripped and trace the problem. Most often this is the only warning an electrical system will give,” Justin explained.

More problematic during the Christmas season to people who have new homes or older homes is the use of exterior lights and decorations, said Justin.

“Plugging up outdoor lights and other decorations without having a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) to protect a person from electrical shock is extremely dangerous. Standing outside on wet ground or in the snow and plugging lights or decorations into an ungrounded outlet could cause the body to become the connector between the electricity and the outlet. They will receive a serious electrical shock and it is very possible that they could be killed.”

Gregg Lewis of Cafe2, a non-profit community program helping our neighbors in Southwest Virginia save energy, reduce costs and improve the health and safety of their lives, agrees.

“Standing in water and hooking up electricity is a bad idea,” he said, adding “they’ll only do it once.”

Gregg also said that extension cords strung around the yard is also a bad idea.

“It’s dark by 5 o’clock.  UPS, FEDEX, mail and newspaper carriers are delivering in the dark. They could trip on a cord and be injured, and injured seriously if the cords are not grounded,” Gregg said.

Gregg’s experience with energy saving products says that the new LED lights are safer because they use less electricity, thereby reducing risk of electrical issues caused by improper or overloaded circuits.

“They don’t eliminate electrical system problems, but they pull less electricity into a circuit,” he explained.

Cafe2 offers free home energy assessments, as well as grants and financial assistance where appropriate. The organization provides the home with an EPS (Energy Performance Score) that is quickly becoming as important as MPG when you shop for a car.

“We walk the homeowner through the entire process and we provide expert review of contractors’ work. Homeowners are usually not electricians. There is no way they know if the work is done properly,” Gregg said.

Justin agrees saying that the average homeowner wouldn’t know if there was a wire that was too small for the breaker or if the breaker is sized to the wire.

“If there is a bad connection or a connection that is not made properly, there is trouble. Electricity is a silent killer and most often they don’t know they are in danger until it’s too late.”

Justin Enquist, Enquist Enterprises, Inc. 540.420.7277 and Gregg Lewis, www.cafe2.org have both agreed to answer any questions you may have about setting up your Christmas decorations safely.