Christmas lights are one of the most iconic decorations of the holiday season. They illuminate your landscape and home, giving passersby something to marvel at as they walk or drive through a winter wonderland.
But as beautiful as those twinkling bulbs are, hanging them around your home can be dangerous. To help you enjoy a holiday season that’s as safe as it is jolly, we’ve compiled this guide to hanging outdoor Christmas lights.
We’ll explain how to choose the best lights, hangers, and cords for your project. Then, we’ll cover electrical safety tips and ladder best practices for hazard-free holiday light decoration.
How to Safely Hang Outdoor Christmas Lights
From selecting the correct bulbs to practicing electrical safety, these tips can help you find the right Christmas lights and hang them properly outside your home.
Map Out Your Christmas Light Display
Start by doing some planning before you head to the home improvement store for Christmas lights. Consider the areas you want to decorate — and don’t be afraid to get creative. Porch railings, door frames, walkways, and your home’s roofline are all perfect places for Christmas lights. Once you’ve determined the areas you want to light, measure the space to find the exact length of lighting you’ll need.
Simplify the process by writing down the parts of the house you’ll be decorating and the length of each. Labeling the measurements before shopping for lights will keep your decoration process more organized. Plus, you’ll have a clearer picture of where you might need extension cords and different light styles.
Determine the Best Type of Light for Your Home
Once you have a solid decoration plan, you’re ready to choose the type of lights you want to use. Traditional Christmas light displays often included incandescent bulbs, a cheaper lighting alternative with a warm, comforting glow. However, many homeowners now opt for LED bulbs because they’re safer and more energy-efficient.
LED bulbs use less energy than incandescent lights, making them a cooler, longer-lasting lighting solution for your display. By producing less heat than incandescents, LED bulbs have a lower risk of starting fires around your home. But don’t worry — these Christmas lights can still give you the lighting color you want. LED lights come in warm colors, cool tones, and multi-color selections to fit any holiday design aesthetic.
Speaking of aesthetics, these are some of the different holiday light styles and how to use them around your home:
- Icicle lights — Short strands of bulbs dangle from the main string to resemble hanging icicles. Icicle lights are perfect for decking out your gutters or fence railings.
- Net lights — These strings of lights connect together to form a web. They’re an excellent lighting option for shrubs and trees, as you can throw the “net” over the shrubbery to cover it in a blanket of light.
- Mini lights — As the name suggests, minis are a miniature version of traditional holiday string lights. These tiny bulbs are ideal for adding a delicate touch of light to porch railings, window frames, and doorways.
- Rope or tape lights — Especially popular for decorating door frames, garages, and windows, these lights consist of flat LED bulbs placed at even intervals throughout PVC tubing.
- Large-bulb lights — For a more traditional holiday look, these are those classic string lights that use C7, C8, or C9 bulbs. They’re often used for decorating roofs, gutters, and eaves far away from ground-level viewers.
- Light show projectors — A low-maintenance alternative to traditional lights, projectors cast light beams onto your home for a hassle-free light display. They’re an excellent decor solution for homeowners unable to hang their own holiday lights.
You may already have all the lights you need sitting in your Christmas storage box in the attic. If you untangle last year’s light strands to find that half of them don’t work, don’t throw them out just yet. This video from Ace Hardware provides step-by-step instructions for troubleshooting and fixing Christmas lights.
Select the Right Light Clips
The next step in the process is selecting the right light clips for your home’s architectural features. There are dozens of light clip options to save you from nailing or stapling string lights to your home. Nails generally aren’t the best option anyway, as you risk damaging your roof or railings or puncturing light wiring.
Consider using zip ties if you’re seeking a low-maintenance, cost-effective way to secure your string lights. Zip ties are adjustable for different-sized banisters and railings. They’re also made of plastic, which is a poor electrical conductor. Plastic clips are typically the best choice for hanging Christmas lights because they pose a lower risk of electric shock.
Metal clips are better conductors of electricity, which means they’re more likely to deliver a painful shock if you touch them. Keep this consideration in mind if you have a metal roof. You’ll want to use plastic clips to ensure the safety of anyone working with the lights.
You can also find specific light clips designed for the different areas you’ll be decorating. This all-application clip from the Sewanta store is an excellent choice for hanging lights in any size. The clips are made of durable plastic with holders for C9 bulbs, mini lights, and icicle lights. They’re easy to install — just hook them to your gutters or roof shingles.
An important safety tip to remember is that you should plug in your lights after hanging them up. Handling lights while electricity flows through them puts you at risk of an electric shock. First, situate the lights in their hangers, then turn them on once you’re safely back on the ground.
Check Electrical Components
The hundreds of lights decorating your landscape need a safe and reliable power source. Using so much additional electricity increases the threat of fires, shocks, tripped circuit breakers, and blown fuses. Fortunately, understanding electrical best practices can help you safely navigate all those extra cords, outlets, and circuits this holiday season.
Don’t Go Over Capacity
Energy Today Electricians recommends using only 80% of your circuit’s capacity at any time. Refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations for your lights to determine how many lights you can safely string together and plug into a receptacle. If your circuit breaker trips, you’ve likely overloaded it and need to lower the number of items plugged into that outlet.
You should also ensure your outdoor receptacles have ground fault circuit interrupters or GFCIs. A GFCI cuts off the power supply to the outlet in the event of an electrical fault. This feature is especially important for outdoor extension cords and electrical outlets that are more likely to come in contact with moisture. If the outlet gets wet, the GCFI will cut off access to the power source, lowering the risk of electrical shock.
In addition to having a GFCI for your outdoor power outlets, remember to check your GFCIs periodically to ensure they’re in working order. Push the test button on the outlet and plug in some lights. If the lights don’t turn on, the circuit tripped successfully, and the GFCI is working. After testing the outlet, press the reset button to restore the outlet’s power.
Revise Extension Cords and Prongs
Make sure any extension cords you use for Christmas lights are rated for outdoor use. Outdoor extension cords are designed for greater durability against humidity, UV rays, and temperature fluctuations.
When inspecting your cords, make sure the insulation is in good shape. Then, check the ground prong — the singular rounded part of the plug — to ensure it isn’t bent, dented, or discolored. The ground prong is important because it redirects excess electricity in the event of a short circuit, lowering any electrocution risk for the handler.
Tuck all your extension cords out of walking paths, but don’t hide them under rugs or beneath heavy outdoor furniture. Although tucking them below and out of sight means the cords won’t trip anyone, it’s a fire hazard. The safest option is to push the cord against a wall and anchor it down with small pieces of electrical tape.
Use Best Practices for Ladder Safety
While lighting the walkways and first-floor windows around your house is a relatively simple task, other spaces require the help of a ladder. You’ll likely need an extension ladder to reach the eaves, gutters, and windows around your home’s roof. Extension ladders are convenient tools with adjustable lengths, perfect for accessing those hard-to-reach areas around your house. However, these ladders aren’t self-supporting, which means they require a stable lean structure and solid ground for safe use.
Before climbing, inspect the ladder for defects like missing rungs, loose bolts, and wobbly components. Then, ensure your ladder can sustain your weight and any tools you’ll carry.
After extensive research comparing products, we discovered that most household ladders are made to sustain 200 to 300 pounds of weight. However, it’s possible to find options that can support higher weights, like this heavy-duty ladder from Amazon that can hold up to 375 pounds.
Before stepping on any rungs, check that both foot pads are stable and secure on the ground. If the top of the ladder is leaning against an exterior wall, keep its base 25% of its length away from the wall. In other words, the ladder should be one foot away from the wall for every four feet of its height.
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration provides these extension ladder do’s and don’ts for safer use:
|DO||Follow the three-point-of-contact rule by keeping at least 2 feet and one hand or two hands and one foot on the ladder at all times.|
Face the ladder and keep your body square with the ladder while climbing.
Step carefully on and off the ladder to prevent the foot pads from shifting.
Carry tools and lights on a tool belt instead of in your hands.
Extend the ladder three feet above the top of the lean structure if you plan to climb onto the roof.
Have someone hold the base steady.
|DON’T||Place the ladder on boxes, boards, or any other unstable surface.|
Climb or descend the ladder with things in your hands.
Try shifting or scooting the ladder while it’s in use.
Use the ladder if it’s wet or slippery.
Preparing for a Holly Jolly, Hazard-free Holiday
Hanging Christmas lights is a relatively simple, DIY process, but doing so haphazardly puts you at risk of serious injury.
Selecting the right lights and light clips for your home is the first step in creating a safe and festive Christmas display. Once you’ve chosen the correct tools and decorations that won’t cause heat or electrical dangers, you can move on to the fun part — correctly hanging them up. Keep our electrical tips and ladder best practices in mind to safely navigate the decoration process. Doing so will ensure your home is merry and bright this holiday season.