Gloomy December evenings have set in and households are warned to brace themselves against a seasonal menace – the Christmas fairy light.

The season of menacing fairy lights is upon us.

The season of menacing fairy lights is upon us. Image by Matt Buck / CC BY-SA 2.0

Already blamed for electrical fires and traffic congestion, regulator Ofcom has today added slower broadband speeds to the list of woes created by their apparently benign twinkling presence. The watchdog says festive fairy lights can contribute to “interference” with broadband, a problem suffered by up to six million homes and offices.

In one part of the UK, a spectacular residential Christmas lights display that attracted thousands of visitors has been axed altogether in a row over increased traffic and muddied grass verges. Residents behind the annual winter wonderland in the Hedge End cul-de-sac Greyhound Close,. near Southampton, said they were sadly pulling the plug on this year’s fundraising spectacular after receiving “increasing criticism” from the local council about their crowd management.

But there is some good news amid the darkness. Rules governing fairy lights were changed in 2010, making them more energy efficient and therefore much less likely to cause electric shocks or fires. The Energy Saving Trust says LED Christmas lights use 90% less energy than incandescent bulbs, and swapping a string of conventional lights for LEDs would save the UK £13 million during the 12 days of Christmas alone. It advises that a 120 bulb non-LED string of Christmas lights on for six hours a day for 12 days would cost 68p to power, while the LED equivalent would cost just 8p.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents says that older fairy lights “may” be safe, but urges households to seriously consider buying new ones which will meet much higher safety standards. Consumers should look for safety marks, for example the BS Kitemark, buy from a reputable store and avoid buying second-hand unless a professional has checked them first. Households are also advised to use a residual current device (RCD) for added protection against shock, keep lights clear of decorations and other flammable materials and switch them off when going to bed or leaving the house.

The UK Fire Service has its own set of safety tips for Christmas lights, such as checking the box for the maximum size of fuse to be used, switching them off when not in the room, avoiding letting the bulbs touch anything that can burn easily and taking care not to overload sockets.

(Press Association)