Many households will be putting up decorations and lighting at Christmas time. While it looks beautiful and exudes holiday charm, this could lead to an overload of electrical systems which can cause fires. A few thousand fires are reported every christmas caused by overloads and about half of these fires occur during the holiday season.
This Christmas, avoid adding too many strings of Christmas lights to any one circuit that would cause a circuit overload and a possible electrical fire. Too often, we are tempted to be like the ‘Grizzwalds’ and add as many Christmas lights to our Christmas trees, windows and roofs of our homes.
The problem is that circuits can only handle so much and the massive bulk of cord connectors protruding from the outlet itself becomes a possible fire hazard.
When the weight of the plugs draw the plugs away from the outlet, it often exposes the contact terminals of the plugs.
By checking the box that the lights came in, you’ll be able to learn the amperage draw of the light set. Most receptacle circuits in your home are rated for at least 15 amps and generally are 20-amp circuits.
The rule of thumb is not to load a circuit over 80%, meaning a 20-amp circuit’s safe usage is 16 amps.
Likewise, by checking the Christmas lights packing box, you’ll see the maximum recommended end-to-end connection of sets of lights. Adding too many will overload the wiring associated with the Christmas lights and could start them on fire.
Holiday lighting may be the world’s largest collective ritual involving electrical danger. It’s a time when our hearts are filled with testing the limits of our safety switches (and our luck) by attempting to pull off great feats of convenience, like plugging 18 strings of lights into a single socket power boards, so they can all go on with the flick of a switch. Does this work? Sometimes. Does this cause house fires? Sometimes.
So this year, instead of relying on crossed fingers for electrical safety, why not take a slightly more scientific approach? (There’s a little bit of math involved, but don’t worry; if you have any suspicions about the existence of Santa Claus, you’re old enough to do it.)
Preventing an Overload
Since most homes these days are juiced up with 200 amps of electrical power, there’s very little chance you can overload your entire system with holiday lights, even if you’re one of those nuts who wins the neighbourhood contest every year.
Therefore, the real question is: How many lights can you plug into a single circuit without overloading it? Safety switches and surge protectors trip or blow when a circuit is overloaded (which often means overheated, too) or when there’s a short somewhere on the circuit, such as when an unlucky squirrel nibbles on a light string or an unlucky homeowner drives a staple through an extension cord. In any case, preventing an overload is one thing you can and should control.