Is your Christmas light display safe… or do you need a new electrical circuit?
Updated: Feb 28
Well, we’ve eaten the Thanksgiving turkey as well as the leftovers, and now for a lot of us ‘tis the season to put up the Christmas lights.
If you’re one of the throw-a-few-strings-over-the hedge holiday decorators, you probably don’t need to worry much about electrical load. Unless you have a lot of other stuff on that circuit, a few strings of lights isn’t going to cause an issue unless they are old or in bad shape.
But if you’re a believer in the “more is more” school of holiday decorating, you may very well need to be careful—and you might even consider having us make sure your circuit breaker is in good shape, or even think about adding a new circuit to handle your lighting load.
No, seriously, according to NFPA (the National Fire Protection Association), between 2013 and 2017, fire departments responded to an average of 160 home fires that were started by Christmas trees each year, and of those, 44% were caused by electrical issues or lighting equipment. And that’s just Christmas trees. Imagine if you’ve also turned your front lawn into a Griswold Family Christmas.
Amps, watts, and calculating electrical load
First of all, you should get yourself familiar with how much your outlets can actually handle. Most modern electrical circuits can handle between 15 and 20 amps, but you only want to load them up to 80% of that. This means that a 20-amp circuit can safely handle 16 amps, and a 15-amp circuit can handle 12 amps. Anything over that may cause the wires to overheat and start a fire. Your circuit breaker, if it’s working correctly, should shut down the power if there is a short. That said, it’s much safer to not overload your circuit in the first place, especially if your circuit breaker is old and possibly not functioning correctly.
To prevent problems, it’s a good idea to calculate the amperage on the lights you’re using (as well as any other electrical fixtures on the same circuit), and make sure you’re not going over that mark. If the Christmas light package only lists wattage, all you have to do is divide the watts by the voltage of the receptacle (120 volts is standard for most receptacles). So, if the string uses 200 watts, just divide by 120 volts and you get 1.67 amps—which means you probably don’t want more than seven strings on that circuit. If you’re not sure which
receptacles are on which circuit, just switch off one breaker at a time until you figure out.
Of course, remember that it’s rare that you have a circuit that doesn’t have any other appliances, lights, or other electrical equipment on it, which is why the truly dedicated Christmas light aficionados often have an electrician add one or two dedicated circuits to their electrical panel to safely handle their holiday displays without worry.
If you have any worries about how much electrical load you’re adding with your holiday lights, or wondering if your circuit breaker is up to the task, it’s always a good idea to have us come out and take a quick look. We’re glad to help!
IES Home Electrical Services is a McKinney-based electrical company dedicated to providing area homeowners with the best quality of work and unparalleled customer service, backed by a 100% satisfaction guarantee. Proudly serving McKinney, Frisco, Prosper, Celina, Gunter, Anna, Aubrey, Bonham, Crossroads, Melissa, Sherman, Farmersville, Little Elm, Princeton, Prosper, Van Alstyne, Hackberry, and Denison.
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