Circuit Overload! ‘Tis the season for power shopping, stringing lights, blowing fuses, tripping breakers, patching cords, hanging stockings, timing trees, shocking Frosty, and zapping Rudolph with 120 volts to get his nose to shine bigger and brighter than the neighbors’ holiday lighting display.
With online shopping and knock-off decorations, homeowners pay little attention to UL safety labels on holiday lights and illuminated Christmas displays before they string up the front yard. Click, snap, pop, and out go the lights!
Holiday lights and Christmas displays draw a lot of juice. Pulling too much power through a residential electrical panel could easily overload the circuit, meltdown an outlet, burn out a plug, singe some wires, or worse, ignite an electrical fire.
Ho, Ho, Ho. Oh, Hell No! Avoid a circuit overload
Safely Amp up the holidays
15-amp electrical circuits are standard in older homes. However, new construction homes have 20-amp electrical circuits, including receptacles in the garage and outside outlets. Typically, light switches are 15-amp circuits. The amp rating on the breaker indicates how many lights and electrical components can safely run through the system without overloading the circuit and tripping the breaker.
Eighty percent load is a general guideline to avoid a circuit overload. For instance, a 20-amp circuit can safely carry 16-amps, and a 15-amp electrical circuit can efficiently carry 12 amps. Add up the required amperage of your lights and electrical Christmas ornaments to get an idea of how many you can safely connect to a single circuit without exceeding the wattage limit and tripping the breaker.
Staple or Nail Christmas Lights to The Roof Is A Bad Idea
Up on the rooftop tap, tap, tap, down through the ceiling leaks drip, drip, drip! A bucket and soggy tree are not how you want to celebrate Christmas.
Every year unpacking and hanging Christmas lights on the roof is a twisted, tangled, jumbled mess that requires lots of help from Santa’s elves and a sip of your favorite holiday spirit.
After Thanksgiving, decorating outside is a tough job. Cold, wet, and windy weather may not be the best time to climb a ladder, slide across a slippery roof, and tacking down outdoor lights.
However, hammer nails or staples to hold the holiday lights on the roof are never a good idea. The thin electrical wire can easily smash, pinch, puncture, or split open to expose the bare electrical wire causing the lights to malfunction. Power can escape through tiny nicks and electrify the light strand and become a fire hazard.
Plastic shingle clips are a better option to secure lights onto the house. The fasteners are easy to attach and will not put holes in your roof or damage the electric strands. Command clips are inexpensive and available at your favorite home improvement store. Plastic clips can stick to the exterior and safely attach the lights to the house. Plastic clips are easy to remove without causing damage.
Circuit Overload Warnings
Light sockets are for Bulbs Not extension cords
Sometimes there are no outlets where you want to put up lights. So, homeowners try screw-in light adapters as makeshift receptacles to string holiday lights. A cheap screw-in plug adapter is potentially dangerous and can easily cause a circuit overload. Most often, a cheap plastic adapter will loosen with each power cycle. Eventually, the connection will separate, and the electricity will arc as the current passes through the circuit.
Plugs, adapters, and extension strips make it far too easy to connect to many lights and overload the outlets. The electricity coming from the panel can fryer the adapters, plugs, extension cords, and lights.
The weight of bulky connections, overloaded adapters, and heavy extension cords can easily pull the plug away from the outlet exposing the energized metal blades and becoming an instant shock and fire hazard.
Yikes! Water & Electric Lights
Don’t get tangled up with extension cords. Seasonal light strands carry a potential safety risk when misused. UL recommends not to connect more than three strands of decorative lights into the single extension cords.
Depending on the weight, gage of wire, and wattage capacity, connecting additional lights will cause the wire to overheat and increase the risk of injury and shock. Look for the red UL label on indoor and outdoor light cords. The label verifies that the product was tested for the risk of electric shock and fire and conforms to consumer safety standards.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Add up the wattage of all the lights on the run to make sure the amps are below the circuit capacity before you plug in to avoid a circuit overload.
Circuit Overload & holiday fire damage
National Fire Protection Association reports that fire departments respond to more than 160 house fires during the Christmas season. On average, holiday fires cause hundreds of deaths and harm thousands of family members with carbon monoxide and poisonous smoke. Homeowner insurance reports more than $10,000,000 of property damage during the holiday season.
Fire prevention statistics indicate decoration fires from improper use of Christmas lights, stressed extension cords, and overloaded receptacles and electrical circuits are the leading cause of house fires.
Stressed Out Extension Cords Can Cause A Circuit Overload
Yard decorations, outdoor lights, and holiday blowups take a lot of juice. Outside electric cords that are exposed to harsh elements and should connect to outdoor GFI receptacles. To safely power your holiday display, outdoor outlets should be caped and protected.
Under no circumstance run an extension cord or Christmas lights through a window or door. When the opening is closed, the frame can pinch and break the wire. An exposed electrical wire inside the frame is a safety concern for anyone that contacts the window, doors frame, or power cord and fire hazard. Spend a few bucks and have a certified electrician install an outdoor GFI receptacle or outline the window with lights inside the house.
High AMP Heavy Capacity Appliances Can Result In A Circuit Overload
Never use power strips or extension cords in a bathroom or on the kitchen countertop.
Power strips and surge protectors can not supply adequate power to run kitchen appliances, microwaves, portable room dehumidifiers, space warmers, and other high-capacity items that demand plenty of watts.
Always plug heavy-duty appliances directly into the receptacle to avoid a circuit overload and the risk of an electrical fire.
Electricity is essential for keeping families connected. Power strips expand the capacity of receptacles, so we can conveniently plugin and recharge phones, computers, laptops, and digital gadgets from a single outlet. Never connect multiple power strips to expand the number of available outlets. Never daisy-chained power strips because they will stress out the receptacle and overload the circuit.
Plug strips that have an internal electrical flow safety switch and battery backup provide additional protection from electrical surges. Surge protectors can help guard sensitive computers, TVs, high-tech toys, and Christmas tree lights from harmful power fluctuation.
When you find yourself stringing extension cords from room to room, tripping breakers, popping lights, and burning up appliances, it’s time to hire an electrician to install more outlets and a safer permanent solution.
Overloaded Plugs & Receptacles
Plug outdoor celebration lights into ground fault circuit interrupters (GFI) outlets. GFIs contain an automatic safety switch to prevent electric shock caused by exposed wiring in wet conditions. GFI plugs are an added layer of protection and will automatically shut off to shield your family and home from electricity.
Circuit Breakers Trip
During a circuit overload, breakers are designed to trip and stop the flow of electricity through an unstable circuit, as a result, it will detect and instantly trip upon wiring shortage, or when the breaker is near the end of life. Circuit breakers are life-saving devices that instantly shut off to prevent electrical shock or panel burnout. A tripped breaker is a warning signal to check your Christmas lights, connections, cords, and plugs and reduce the load on the circuit.
Nobody wants a dark Christmas
Waking up to a blackout will put a damper on your holiday spirits. But a brownout is more dangerous. A brownout is when the power supply drops out but continues to trickle through the electrical system. The low-level voltage will damage appliances, electronics, digital components, lighting, and virtually anything plugged into the circuit.
Avoid a Circuit Overload & Holiday Meltdown
Extension cords, receptacles, Christmas lights, and circuit breakers are not the only electrical connections you need to be concerned about during the decorating season. Lighting up your Christmas tree, decking out the house, powering up holiday blowups, and connecting animated yard displays will use a lot more electricity.
Schedule a professional Home Inspection with Foundations Property Inspection before you go full Griswold! Our certified Home Inspector will examine your electric panel, circuit breakers, outlets, furnace, hot water tank, and other components of your home.
During the Home Inspection, you can ask questions and get direct answers to your concerns regarding the electrical system and how much power you can safely pull through a circuit breaker.
Our Home Inspectors are more than happy to share decorating safety tips. Remember, you can cause a circuit overload even with a surge protector or power strip. Tripping the circuit breaker is more than just an inconvenience. Sudden power shutdown is a safety hazard.
Christmas lights add a magical sparkle and brighten the season for everyone. Safely connect holiday lights and decorations according to their UL specifications. Misuse or improper installation of Holiday lights and Christmas displays pose a high risk of injury and can quickly cause a circuit overload and electrical fire.
Always handle Christmas lights, extension cords, power strips, timers, receptacles, and surge protectors with care. From everyone at Foundations Property Inspection, have Merry Christmas and a Happy, Safe New Year!