If the wiring and circuit breakers in your home are properly wired and up to code, there shouldn’t be a safety problem with holiday lights. However, sometimes it’s hard to know what outlets are on what circuit or how many different circuits are in the house. To test your home electical circuits, hire an electrician to trace which electrical outlets are on an individual circuit breaker. If you don’t want to pay an electrician, purchase a circuit tracer. Circuit tracers plug into an electrical outlet and emit an electronic signal on the wire all the way back to the electrical panel allowing you to use a sensor to locate and identify circuit breakers, fuses, blown fuses, junction boxes, shorts to ground, and breaks in wires. These devices cost from $39 to several hundred dollars. However, the inexpensive ones are fine for tracking which outlet is fed from which circuit breaker.
Remember, circuit breakers trip because the electrical load exceeded the rating of the breaker, which is a potential fire hazard. A fire is the last thing you need during a busy holiday schedule, so if you see flickering lights or the lights go out all together, remove some of the load from that circuit: unplug a string of lights or another electrical appliance that is using power from that circuit.
“Power strips and extension cords also need to match up,” says Rudi Masi, Manager of Sales & Service Operations with Southeast-based Progress Energy. You should compare the wattage rating for each strand of holiday lights. Don’t use an extension cord with a lower wattage rating than the holiday lights. There is no limit to what can be plugged into the strips or cords if the connected wattages do not exceed the load rating of the cords and strips. (Remember, you can’t exceed 80 percent of the amp rating on the circuit! For more information on amps, watts and volts, see this previous post.)