We don’t have snow for December in California, and we imagine most locals are a-okay with that. But homeowners still want some holiday cheer, and one of the best ways to pretend they’re in a winter wonderland while still only needing a windbreaker when outside is to put up a festive light show on the outside of the house. And a generous amount on the inside as well.
But there’s a potential downside to decorating with lights during the season. The amount of electrical demand a light display puts on the house can cause tripped circuit breakers. And it can even lead to house fires! We have some advice about electrical safety when it comes to lighting the street up and giving the living room a seasonal glow with your dazzling displays.
Be careful about circuit capacity
The circuits in your home have a recommended safe wattage capacity. You can find this information on your electrical panel where all the circuit breakers are located. Beside each breaker is an amperage number. You may not know what circuit controls the outdoor outlets you’re going to use for the lighting. To figure this out, plug in a few small light strings (nothing that would be in danger of shorting out even the smallest circuit), then turn off the breakers and see which lights go out. We recommend putting labels beside the circuits so you can tell which ones are which in the future.
To determine the safe wattage of a circuit, multiply the amperage number by 120 (i.e. 120 volts), which will give you the total wattage capacity. This isn’t the safe capacity, however. The safe capacity is approximately 80% of the total. So if a circuit lists 15 amps, then the safe wattage is 1,440 watts. (80% of 15 x 120.)
Before you start plugging in strings of lights, add up all the wattage of the lights so you know you aren’t going over the safe amount. Make sure to also account for any appliances using the same circuit. This is more important when it comes to indoor lights, since the same circuit for the living room where you’ll have your tree up may also power a lamp or the outlet for your television. Subtract the wattage of the other devices from the safe wattage first, and then make sure the lights you plan to put up don’t exceed it.
Upgrade an old electrical panel
This is as good a time as any during the year to make upgrades to your electrical panel. If the panel is old, it may not be able to handle your wattage demands. A panel in service for more than 15 years is probably ready to be upgraded—your electrical demand will certainly have grown over that time! You can arrange for electrical panel service in Sherman Oaks, CA or elsewhere in L.A. and the San Fernando Valley with our licensed electricians. We’re experts with both panels and indoor/outdoor lighting, so you’ll know we’ll have your house ideally fixed up for holiday light decorating—as well as for many years in the future.