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In the run-up to Christmas it’s time to either pull out the box of old Christmas lights or push the boat out and buy a new set of lights from the local market. But there are things to check for before getting enthusiastic about hanging lights around the place – and this is important whether it’s for the home, the office reception, the hotel lobby or the high street.
Fit for purpose
Make sure that the lights you want to use are fit for the job that you want them to do. If you want to use Christmas lights outside, make sure they are designed for external use – don’t assume.
Exterior quality lighting comes with an ingress protection (IP) rating that tells you what kind of environment the equipment should be used in. For external use, you can expect to see Christmas lights rated at IP44. And don’t accept a trader’s word for this; the IP rating should be stated on the packaging.
All lighting needs to be electrically safe to avoid the risk of electric shocks. Faulty wiring can also be a fire hazard. Reusing Christmas lights year after year brings its own hazard; a string of lights that worked perfectly well when you bought them may have deteriorated over the passing years. Make sure to have the lights checked by a qualified electrician.
Christmas lights are portable electrical devices and should undergo proper portable appliance testing (PAT) to ensure they are safe to use.
If there is damage visible to the eye, do not use the light string, and do not attempt to repair it. This is a case for replacement.
All Christmas lights should be connected to the electrical mains via a 30mA residual current device (RCD). This ensures that the electricity is switched off automatically if the lights fail, or if someone damages a cable. And this is not a bureaucratic nicety; this saves lives.
And don’t forget that the installation needs to comply with BS 7671 ‘requirements for electrical installations: the IET wiring regulations.
All electrical equipment needs to carry the European CE mark, which shows that the product complies with EU safety, health or environmental requirements.
A warning note on CE marking: there is a degree of fraudulent CE marking and it’s possible to buy product that carries the mark but does not comply with standards. Be aware of your surroundings. Are you buying from a reputable store or market stall, or is this coming from someone’s car boot? Trust your retailer. And never buy second-hand Christmas lights.
Christmas lights in use
Although most new Christmas lighting sets use low energy LED lamps, there are still a lot of old filament lamp versions out there. These lamps run hot and can be a fire hazard if they are in contact with flammable material.
If you find that your light string isn’t long enough to cover the area that you need, DON’T be tempted to connect two strings together. Instead, run the two strings separately – it’ll have the same effect.
Don’t run cables under rugs and carpets – and at the same time, don’t run cables where they can be a trip hazard.
Christmas lights in the public sphere
All electrical installations fall under the responsibility of a competent person. Make sure that you know who that person is and if you are that person, what legal responsibilities you carry.
Finally, make sure that a risk assessment is carried out before approving any temporary electrical installation.
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