David Robson Extension Educator, Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois
Yard & Garden
A Hazard-Free Holiday
Check those lights … check them twice; got to find out if they’re tattered or nice
Another year is coming to an end, and we could reflect on 2009, though that’s probably better for January. The only thing that immediately comes to mind is the jubilation that all the rain from September through November wasn’t the equivalent of snow.
The holidays are upon us, or soon will be. And that means decorating with evergreens, indoors and out.
Outside, there’s not much to worry about as long as you don’t put heavy strands of lights on a weak limb. Then the limb bends and potentially breaks. Most of us view that in a negative light.
Most of us don’t use the old-fashioned lights from the 50s and 60s that generated enough heat to warm your house for the entire month. Gone are the bulbs as big as your wrist.
These days, we have the small twinkling lights that generate as much heat as a beetle, but can cause problems if improperly used. Electricity is still electricity no matter what and if lights and cords are not in the best condition, problems will occur.
On the other hand, new light strand tend not to go out when a single light no longer works. If I had a dime for every strand that was thrown away just because one light was out and no one wanted to check every bulb, including me, I’d be spending winters someplace warm.
Some holiday light aficionados have everything checked in July and ready to go as soon as the holidays roll around. Others have everything jammed in a box and will spend hours untangling all the cords and checking all the lights. And of course, filling the air with sounds that definitely are not of the season.
(This is assuming that the lights came down in the first place and weren’t “accidentally” left up all season. That seldom happens, I’m sure.)
The first step is to check your electrical cords to make sure none of the light strands are frayed and sparking. Little four-legged gray critters, sometimes looked on unfavorably by homeowners and hunted by cats, like to chew wires throughout the year for whatever reason.
It’s not that the wires taste like cheese or look like peanut butter. The wire is there, the mouse’s brain isn’t large, and the two seem to go together.
You don’t need a magnifying glass to see damage. The wires will stick out, and if you carefully plug the strands in, they don’t light. More un-holiday sounds fill the air. Make sure that anything you use to fix damaged strands is outdoor-rated. Masking and duct tape, and band-aids are not.
Don’t overload the sockets, which always is easier said than done. If fuses or circuit breakers keep blowing, something is wrong.
If you use extension cords, make sure they are in good condition and rated for outdoor use. Go with heavy duty cords. While most are orange and stand out like a sore thumb, there are other colors out there. Or gather some leaves or evergreen boughs and cover the cords, but not the ends. This gives the appearance of a covered cord in the yard to anyone who has good eyesight, but at least it’s not glaringly pumpkin-colored, which is better two months ago.
Don’t forget a timer to turn the lights on and off, if you happen to forget. There’s not much need to have the lights on at noon, or pass midnight, though some like the complete show from dusk to dawn.
Finally, while not electrical-related, wreaths and swags hung outdoors should be totally outside. Don’t place them between the interior door and a glass storm door. The heat that generates between the two on a sunny day can start drying out the needles, which could potentially turn into a fire hazard.
The best bet is to keep the evergreens completely outside. If they dry out, then the needles fall straight down and become less of a fire hazard.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all.
David Robson is an Extension Educator, Horticulture, at the Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois Extension, P.O. Box 8199, Springfield, IL 62791. Telephone: 217-782-6515.
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