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URBANAKeep safety in mind as you plan parties and candy-filled evenings for Halloween. While decorating for fall festivities and Halloween activities, Safe Electricity advises checking electric lights and decorations for potential dangers that could cause fires and injuries.
Spooky, dark and flashing lights, fog machines, and other electric displays add to the ambiance of your Halloween haunts, but used improperly, they can also create danger of electrical shocks, fires and burns, warns Safe Electricity Director Molly Hall. Avoid real Halloween scares by taking a few precautions before decorating indoors or outside.
To avoid potential safety hazards
Use only lights that have been safety tested and approved by Underwriters Laboratory (UL). Look for the UL label on the box and on each string.
Make sure extension cords are in good condition. Use only UL-approved cords rated to carry the electrical load you will connect to them.
Before plugging in the lights, check each string for broken sockets, frayed cords, or faulty plugs. Replace damaged strings.
Keep electric cords out of high-traffic areas. Do not run cords across sidewalks, decks or other walkways that could trip trick-or-treaters. Indoors, dont stretch them across a room where people can trip over them. Likewise, dont hide them under rugs or carpets.
Dont staple or nail through light strings or electrical cords.
Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house walls or other firm supports to protect the lights from wind damage. Use only insulated staples to hold strings in place, not nails or tacks.
Do not attach cords or lights to metal objects.
Outdoors, use only lights and cords rated for outdoor use.
Cords should be plugged into outlets equipped with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). Use a portable GFCI if your outdoor outlets dont have them.
Always unplug lights before going to bed or leaving your home.
Also, dont allow children or pets to play with light strings or other electrical decorations that can shock or burn, says Hall. Make sure to keep electrical objects away from flammable objects, such as hay bales or cornstalks. The heat from lights, machines and other electrical decorations could potentially cause a fire.
Whether decorating or using extension cords in general, read the label on both the cord and the appliances that are plugged into it to make sure the cord can handle the load. If it cant, use a higher-rated cord or unplug some appliances. Remember that extension cords are meant for temporary, not permanent, use.
Keep in mind that most household circuit breakers are rated to 10 or 15 amps (you can tell by looking at the breakers themselves), and household current is generally 110 volts. Amps multiplied by volts equal the number of watts that a breaker can handle without tripping. With caution, learn what breakers protect each section of your home and label them. Dont overload your circuit breakers/fuses.
For more information, visit the Web site www.SafeElectricity.org. Safe Electricity is a public awareness program created and supported by a coalition of several dozen organizations, including electric utilities, University of Illinois Extension and other entities committed to promoting electrical safety.
From the Oct. 25-31, 2006, issue