Tag: extension cords

Holiday Decorations Safety


Did you notice the second sentence in last week’s Advisory?  Here it is again: “So much of emergency preparedness is just getting smarter and more secure around the basics.” This week I was forced by my neighbors to take another look at one of those basics: making sure holiday decorations safety isn’t overlooked in the excitement of the season.

The reason I say “forced” is because our neighborhood sponsors an annual Holiday Decorating Contest.  The rules are simple: pretty much anything goes!  So outdoors we have strings of lights, plastic icicles, inflatable Santas, wire-sculpture reindeer, nativity scenes with the Star of Bethlehem. Through the windows we can see miniature villages with moving trains, Christmas trees of all sizes, and . . . burning candles!

Holiday Decorations Safety: A perfect theme for our December HOA meeting

Because of the decorating contest, we devoted some time at this week’s meeting to holiday safety. I hope this is all review for you. But in case you have new neighbors, new decorations or simply forgetful folks anywhere nearby, you may want to share some of this!

Our “educational display table” focused on extension cords.

We have found that people really do love to look at pictures and handle real examples. So we set out a simple display of things to watch out for. Here it is, nearly finished . . .

Step right up . . .!

From left to right you can see:

  • Image of broken and burned cord
  • GFI (GFCI) outlet (with real example)
  • How extension cords are sized (text)
  • Comparing indoor and outdoor extension cords and plugs (with real examples)
  • Image of cord showing “Indoor/Outdoor” label
  • Image of dangerously over-loaded wall socket (purposefully exaggerated)
  • Methods for keeping outdoor light plugs dry (plastic cover, baggie)

When people arrived, we had Emergency Response Team members staffing the table and making sure people got their questions answered.

An important benefit of building the display? We “experts” learned we weren’t so expert after all! How about you? Test your own level of extension-cord expertise with the 3 questions below!

(1) You need a really heavy-duty cord to run power tools for your construction project.  What gauge would you start looking at, a 10 gauge or a 16 gauge?
(2) Can you quickly name 3 common household appliances that should not be used with an extension cord?
(3) Your cord is marked with the letters SJTW.  What do they mean?

(You’ll find all the answers you need at this appropriately-named site: https://bethepro.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/extension-cords.pdf)

Next in the spotlight, a favorite hazard: candles!

You probably know this statistic from the NPFA: “On average, 20 home candle firs are reported per day, peaking in December and January.” Just about a year ago one of our neighbors lost her home as the result of a candle fire. We consistently warn about that danger here in our neighborhood, with a big emphasis on fire extinguishers.

One of our creative volunteers built a second display highlighting alternatives to candles!  Here’s a photo showing her different battery-operated, LED “candles.” The largest one actually flickers thanks to a clever floating “wick” mechanism. The main feature of these lights?  NO FLAME AND HARDLY ANY HEAT!  (Did you know that LEDs use less than 1/10 the energy of regular lights?)

You can imagine the flickering . . .

We ended up giving away about a dozen small LED tea candles to people who had never actually seen them before!  (See what I mean about getting smarter and more secure about the basics? Everyone can learn more!)

And to sum up: “Tis the season for safety!” checklist as handout

Finally, we handed out a one-page holiday decorations safety checklist to everyone. It offered 16 tips for lighting safety as regards

  • Candles – Avoid them!
  • Lights and Trees (6 tips on how to buy, how to maintain)
  • Cords and Outlets (Temporary use only! 9 tips for using the right size, when 3-prong plugs are required, what NOT to plug into an extension cord, etc.)

As always, we also created a version of our holiday decorations safety checklist in Chinese.

Some safety samples for your own use, or your educational display

If you think a display like ours might be useful, but you can’t rustle up examples of all the items we’ve mentioned, check out these items at Amazon. (Your purchase may give me a small commission that will keep me getting examples for my own trainings!)

General purpose outdoor extension cord

The important thing is to confirm that the cord is actually meant for outdoor use! The label may say “Indoor/Outdoor” and you may also see the letter “W” stamped on the cord itself. The longer the cord you need, the heavier gauge you should get, because current is lost over distance.

This general purpose 50 foot cord is heavy enough that it can be used to drive hand tools and gardening equipment – and of course it will work for holiday decorations.

Go Green Power Inc. GG-13750BK 50′ 16/3 SJT W-A Extension Cord, , , Black
Not sure about a GFI? (Ground Fault Interrupter) or GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter)? (They are the same thing!)

(I’m including this because I promised to dig ever deeper, remember?)  We had one of these in our tool shed that we pulled out for the display, but I had actually never really looked at it.  (Joe is the electrician around here.) You may have noticed one in your bathroom: they are required in kitchens and bathrooms to prevent shock in areas that may be damp.

This model has both a TEST button and a RESET button so you can have extra confidence that the circuit is working and is safe. (It glows red when it’s not working and/or needs to be replaced.)

Instructions say you can “install in 10 minutes.” I’d be sure to get an experienced installer!

ANKO GFCI Outlet 20 Amp, UL Listed, LED Indicator, Tamper-Resistant, Weather Resistant Receptacle Indoor or Outdoor Use with Decor Wall Plates and Screws
Something altogether new for me: A waterproof cover for extension cord plugs!

If your decorations will be outside in the weather, you’ll want to keep the plugs dry.  (In warm climates, that includes keeping them out of the path of the irrigation.) Of course, you can use a baggie and tie it shut, but this simple plastic case would be a whole lot easier and more reliable. Just place the plug into the case, snap it shut, and voila. Easy, Dry. Safe! (This one comes 3 to a pack.)

Flemoon [3 Pack] Outdoor Extension Cord Safety Cover with Waterproof Seal, Weatherproof Electrical Connection Box to Protect Outdoor Outlet, Plug, Socket, Christmas Holiday Decoration Light, Black
Finally, some REALLY attractive and very safe LED candles!
Table setting showing holiday decorations including LED candles

I was given these candles as a present!  They are absolutely beautiful and since they’re made of wax when they are lit you can’t tell they aren’t real. (Two AA batteries in each, can be turned on and off with a switch on the bottom, or remotely using controller.)

The candles are 3 inches across, so not small. The image from the advertising shows their relative size.

Flameless Battery Operated Flickering Candles: LED Real Wax Electric Votive Candle Lights with Remote Control Set of 3 Large Pillar Fake Candles for Wedding Party Outdoor Votive Diwali Garden

OK, that’s it for today’s review of extension cords vs. holiday decorations. Perhaps I’ve treated some of this in a light-hearted fashion, but it’s a serious topic. Every year 770 house fires are caused by Christmas lights. Take just a few sensible steps so you can enjoy your own holiday lights without a tragedy.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. If you would like a copy of our Holiday Decorations Checklist, click here to download the pdf. I’ve left space at the bottom of the checklist page so you can customize it to your own group before duplicating it.