Andrew Thomas talks to electrical contractor Martin Barker about how to ensure you do not overload your electrical systems this festive season

Christmas is definitely the season to make everything sparkle. Christmas trees, living rooms and dining rooms will be brightly decorated and more and more people are choosing to festoon the outside of their homes and gardens with dizzying arrays of lights and projections.

It can create a magical and uplifting sight – something most people need more than ever this year.

Also at Christmas many gifts will be electrically-powered, such as new gaming devices or laptops, so plug sockets are bound to be in big demand.

Christmas is a wonderful and positive time - but there are also important messages to be aware of as far as electrical safety is concerned.

“The National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting has said that faulty electrics account for 20,000 house fires a year, causing upwards of 70 fatalities,” said Martin Barker, Director/Principal Duty Holder at electrical contractors L. Barker Limited, which is based at Shap Road Industrial Estate in Kendal.

“NICEIC carried out research with ELECSA a few years ago which showed that 90 per cent of people decorated their homes and gardens but fewer than a quarter considered the impacts on the electrics of the home.

“It also found that 42 per cent of people paid more attention to the aesthetics of what they were doing rather than the safety elements and 20 per cent of people felt they needed to compete with friends and neighbours.”

He said that no-one wanted to be a killjoy but the danger was that people could overload their electrical sockets, causing them to trip. People should try to avoid extensive use of extension sockets and adapters and should not plug multiple extensions into each other.

“There can also be a temptation if people are short of sockets to rewire them and connect a lot of things through them,” said Mr Barker, 53. “NICEIC said some homeowners might be tempted to rewire lights to include up to four sets of lights into a single plug. This is dangerous and causes a potential fire risk. A single plug should only be used for one appliance.”

He warned it was always dangerous for people to tinker with electrical systems, unless they were a certified electrician – it could potentially lead to them suffering electrocution.

Any lights used outside should be certified for external use. “NICEIC said many people could be tempted to keep lights on for 24 hours, overnight or when they went out,” said Mr Barker. “It said all Christmas lights increased the risk of fire and overloading and should only be switched on while people were at home.”

Mr Barker added that people should always use Christmas lights that had been certified for use. They should look for the European standards symbol, represented by a CE, and      should always buy lights from reputable stores.

People putting up Christmas lights indoors and outdoors also needed to be very careful about potential trip hazards from wires.

Mr Barker stressed the importance of having smoke, heat and carbon monoxide detectors in homes, adding: “There have been many occasions where there have been fires at Christmas and people have not been alerted because they have taken out the battery from the detector of disconnected it.”

He reminded people that owners of domestic properties should have their electrics checked every ten years. Properties that were let needed the electrics checking when there was a change of tenancy.

However, he pointed out that NICEIC stated that 49 per cent of homeowners had never had their home electrics checked or did not know when their electrics were last checked.

Mr Barker said: “Everybody should enjoy Christmas but please make sure you keep yourself safe so you are here for the next festive season.”

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