Keep safety in mind when using lights

Holiday lights are as much a sign of the season as Christmas trees or candy canes.

For some, displays are as simple as a single candle in each window. For others, well, they’re quite a bit larger.

Jennings Osborne, an Arkansas businessman, built a display throughout the 1980s and 1990s that grew to millions of bulbs, caused traffic nightmares and was eventually acquired by Walt Disney World.

In central Pennsylvania, those big displays are left in the hands of places such as Lakemont Park with its annual Holiday Lights on the Lake display 51 acres of sparkle and animation open from Nov. 22 to Jan. 5. The Altoona show is accompanied by a festive soundtrack, with the added bonus of raising money for charities including the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association.

But if you want to have a little sparkle at home, it doesn’t have to be a huge expense or a holiday headache.

Ettore DiVirgilius, assistant store manager in charge of operations at the Patton Township Home Depot, said LED lights can be an affordable and safe way to decorate for the season.

“It’s more energy saving,” he said. “It has less impact on the environment, and it’s arguable safer since it doesn’t generate as much heat and could be less hazardous.”

LED lights can also be found in interesting shapes, from the traditional tear-drop style to spheres and interesting crystal-cuts.

Because they are more energy efficient, they can also head off the stereotypical power problems that scare some people away from doing their own light shows. Fears of Clark Griswold’s lighting fiasco in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” can be overcome with a little advance planning.

“You just want to keep in mind your amp draw,” said DiVirgilius. An LED strand can pull about 2 amps, he said, allowing more lights to be strung together on one circuit than with traditional incandescent lights.

He also suggests double checking your electrical system to see how many amps are already being used on a circuit. With newer homes, there may be dedicated ground fault circuit interruption outlets outside for purposes like decorative lighting, but older homes may share circuits with indoor appliances or other power pullers, with now GFCI and a greater chance of having an overload that shuts off all the lights, not just the holiday ones.

“Just keep that in mind when doing elaborate displays,” DiVirgiliu said.