It was in the movie, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” that actor Chevy Chase demonstrated all of the wrong things to do when trimming the house for the holidays. While the scene was a riot, home decorating safety is no laughing matter.
A favorite place to start holiday decorating is the home’s exterior. For some it’s a game of who can amass the greatest number of lights per square foot. The result: a real holiday feeling or maybe a touch of Las Vegas. Holiday decorating is fine as long as it’s done with safety as a priority.
The first rule for installing exterior lighting is simple: Stay off the roof! Aside from the damage that could result, personal safety is a major concern. Many a well-intentioned homeowner has spent the holiday season flat on his back as a result of a nasty fall from the roof. Another word of caution never nail, staple, screw or attach any device that might create a roof leak.
Always work from below on a sturdy and well-supported non-metallic ladder. One problem with using ladders in damp flowerbeds is that the legs can sink deep into the ground causing the ladder to topple. This can be solved by attaching a 1 by 4 board from front leg to front leg and another from back leg to back leg, with two-inch drywall screws. We call this our ladder with “training wheels.”
Use our safe ladder to suspend “exterior rated” lighting from rafter tails, fascias or gutters, with the approved hangers available from your local hardware store or home improvement center. And if you must install lights on the roof, there are available plastic anchorless shingle tabs that can be inserted between shingles, and that hold the bulb up and off the roof to eliminate the potential for fire.
Another potential hazard during the holiday season is the installation of too many lights on one electrical circuit. This can result in multiple-tripped breakers, fried fuses or worse an electrical fire. It’s best to spread the electrical load over more than one circuit. To do this you’ll need to identify at least a couple of separate circuits in your home.
One of the simplest ways to do this is with the use of a small table lamp and a homemade floor plan of your home. The plan should be nothing more than a crude sketch that details all of the outlet locations, room by room. As you identify what plugs are on which circuit (by switching the breaker on and off with the lamp plugged in), all you need to do is note the information on the plan. When completed, the plan should be taped to the inside cover of your fuse box or subpanel.
Start at the fuse box or subpanel and remove all of the fuses or turn all of the circuit breakers off. Next, reinsert one of the fuses or turn on one of the breakers. With your lamp, test each and every plug in the home to determine if it is part of that particular circuit. Repeat the process for the remaining fuses or breakers turning on only one breaker at a time.
When extension cords are required, use heavy-duty, three-prong grounded cords which are rated for exterior use. Overloaded light-duty extension cords are frequently the reason for electrical fires around the holiday season.
This year strive for safety along with aesthetics.
For more home improvement tips and information, visit our web site at www.onthehouse.com or call our listener hot line 24/7 at 1-800-737-2474 (ext 59).
Question and Answer
About: Decorative Lighting
Question: We will be remodeling our home sometime soon and plan to make some major improvements with the artificial lighting in our home. We have read a number of articles in home improvement magazines about lighting and the fact that it can have one of the most significant impacts on the finished product. What should we know about home lighting before we proceed with our remodeling?
Answer: Lighting plays a key role in interior design and is a major part of any electrical wiring project. Good lighting design has an elusive quality. When you walk into an effectively lighted room, your eyes sense that everything is readily visible, but you’ll rarely remark, “What fantastic lighting!” Home lighting should be varied and dramatic. Fixtures should be connected to dimmer switches that can create different effects. The lighting should be flexible enough to illuminate many activities as well as be a focus of interest in itself.
An essential ingredient in lighting design is simple common sense. The best lighting designer is a problem-solver, determining where light is wanted and needed, and then putting it there with economy and flair. You can take the same approach using three main types of lighting: task lighting, accent lighting, and ambient or general lighting.
Task lighting illuminates a specific area where a highly visual activity like reading, sewing, or food preparation takes place. It’s often achieved with individual fixtures that direct light onto a work surface. Accent lighting is similar to task lighting in that it consists largely of directional light. Primarily decorative, accent lighting is used to focus attention on artwork to highlight architectural features, and to set a mood. Ambient or general lighting fills in the undefined areas of a room with a soft level of light— enough to watch television by or navigate safely through a room, Ambient lighting usually comes from indirect fixtures that provide a diffused spread of illumination.
The first step toward improving your lighting involves careful consideration of the design and layout of your rooms and the types of activities that take place in each one. If you’re planning new lighting, you may want to draw a basic room plan that will help you determine where to place your fixtures and where you’ll want new outlets or wall switches.
Once you have some ideas in mind you may want to contact a lighting consultant, either for advice of for a complete plan depending on your project and your budget. Architects and interior designers may also do lighting as a specialty. All types of consultants usually belong to the Illuminating Engineering Society. Light fixture stores and electrical supply houses dealing in lighting fixtures may have in-house consultants also.
James and Morris Carey