7 Holiday Lighting Do’s and Don’ts That Everyone Should Know

Alexandra Frost
Written by Alexandra Frost
Updated August 25, 2021
Red and yellow holiday lights decorate green house facade
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To make sure the holidays are cheerful and safe, follow these tips for successful holiday lighting

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year...until it’s not, due to an accident or fire caused by holiday lights that you didn’t hang properly. To prevent accidents and ensure a successful holiday decorating experience, it’s essential to follow safety precautions when hanging holiday lights on your home, trees, and other structures around your yard or business.

How to Safely Hang Holiday Lights

More than 173,000 people in the United States were injured hanging holiday lights in a decade, according to Science News. To avoid spending your holiday season in the emergency room when you’d rather be enjoying your beautiful light display, follow these expert tips to increase safety and successfully complete your decorating project.

1. Carefully Inspect Your Electrical System

When you plug your shimmering lights into a socket, there shouldn’t be any sparks, heat, or other concerning situations involving the plug. Additionally, if your holiday light strands have any bare or exposed wires, you should purchase different ones and dispose of the faulty ones.

2. Use a Safer Type of Outlet

If you end up having a power spike or a short in your electrical system, you want your outlet to protect your home rather than cause an electrical fire. To ensure this, use ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCI), which automatically cut off the power in this event. All outdoor lights and other electrical decorations should only be used with this type of outlet. GFCIs are available on outlets and extension cords as well.

3. Use the Closest Outlet

The more extension cords you string together to make your lights reach around the house, the more increased risk you face for issues. Instead, plug your holiday lights into the closest available outlet, containing an electrical problem if one occurs. If no outlets are near your project, you can purchase outdoor power stakes, which bring power to your decorating area. These come in various options, such as automatic timers and solar power.

Avoid These Holiday Light Hanging Mistakes

Christmas lights sitting on a ladder
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Even the best intentions can lead to a serious fire or electrical issue in a beautifully decorated home. To avoid small and large electrical problems and injuries, watch out for these common pitfalls in the light hanging process this holiday season.

4. Don’t Overload your Circuits

Sure, you are picturing the house from the Griswold Family Christmas when you’re hanging your holiday lights. But remember just how many power issues they actually had. Instead, keep your decorations to a reasonable amount and prevent overloading the circuit. You can calculate the total amps of the strands of lights and check that your extension cord is rated to handle that amount. Most household circuits can rung about 70 strings of 50 standard mini lights, or up to 600 strings of LED lights. Don’t forget to account for other major appliances running simultaneously and limiting the total power available for your lights. 

5. Don’t Climb on Roofs or Ladders Alone

Just because your festive holiday memories include your parents “bravely” walking around on the roof doesn’t mean it’s a tradition you should be recreating. Falling injuries that result from hanging lights account for many of the holiday season injuries that occur every year, but they are preventable. Instead, use a sturdy ladder and a helper to secure it, and focus on framing the outline of your house at reachable points rather than dangerously scaling the roof.

6. Don’t Set your Holiday Tree on Fire

If a live Christmas tree is in your holiday decorating plans, and you intend to use holiday lights to decorate it, you need to take additional precautions to ensure you aren’t causing a fire hazard. Don’t purchase a tree that has dry or dropping needles, as those more easily catch fire. Instead, opt for fresh, green needles, according to Travis County, Texas’ holiday lighting safety guide. They also recommend unplugging the lights every night before bed or when you leave home and connecting no more than three strands of push-in bulbs or a maximum of 50 screw-in bulbs on one tree. Check your light strands carefully for broken or loose bulbs or connections before getting started, and opt for lights that are “Underwriters Laboratories approved” (UL).

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Hire a Professional

Seeking a professional holiday decorating service to achieve your desired look might be the safest and most successful option. This can be especially effective if you aren’t confident in your knowledge of outlets, plugs, extension cords, and other electrical systems. It can also be helpful if you aren’t physically able to hang the lights safely yourself. Spend some time researching trustworthy and cost-effective professional installation options.

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