From twinkle lights to icicle lights to net lights to lights of all different colors, there’s nothing that really cheers up the holiday season than a spectacular light show. Whether hung indoors or outdoors, a house lit-up with a string of dazzling Christmas lights is no doubt a beautiful sight to behold.
However, as much as Christmas lights help bring out that magical beauty of the holiday season, they can turn out to be real safety hazard if not installed correctly.
Therefore, in a bid to help you keep your holidays merry, bright and safe, I’ve compiled some few safety measures you should keep in mind when putting up your Christmas lights so as to ensure you install them safely and properly.
- Testing the Lights
For both interior and exterior decoration, the first thing to do before proceeding to put the lights up is to inspect the light strings to check for broken bulbs or those that are missing and also for any worn or defective wiring.
If you spot any damaged bulbs replace them and clear the broken glass as they can be hazardous to kids and pets.
Put on a pair of gloves when extracting the broken bulb and use a pair of needle-nose pliers to pull it out or unscrew it.
Plug each string to check for burned-out bulbs and replace them promptly. Make sure the string is unplugged before removing the faulty bulbs and when fixing the replacement. The replacement should be of correct wattage.
Occasionally, you might bump to a strand that does not work at all (will not light up). In this case, the fuse might have blown, therefore you have to replace it.
Note: If you are using old lights that don’t have fuse plugs, replace them with a modern set that feature fuse plugs to prevent sparks in case a short circuit occurs.
Once you’ve confirmed that everything is okay, retest the strings to ensure that all the lights work well. If a fuse blows again, then replace the entire string.
The key here is to ensure everything is in proper condition before use. Any sign of damage whether it’s a crack on a bulb, wire or leads, loose connections or frayed ends, is a warning that using the lights is unsafe.
- Putting up the Indoor Lights
When putting up the lights, only connect a maximum of three strands together because anything more than that may cause the lights to burn out.
You should also seal each connection and all the loose ends of strings with an electrical or duct tape. This is so because most blown fuses occur as a result of moisture getting into connectors that attach the strings of lights to each other. Sealing these areas will keep everything dry.
Additionally, you should use a surge protector while being careful not to overload the circuit.
To prevent your children from tripping when playing around the house, place the cords in low-traffic areas (never run a cord under a rug). Avoid twisting or kinking the cords.
Tape down any extension cord running on the floor to prevent everyone from tripping over them.
More importantly, put safety caps on all electrical outlets that are not in use to prevent children from playing with them and getting electrocuted.
When attaching the lights to vertical surfaces like to window trim, use plastic clips like nail-on clips. Do not use nails or staples because they wear away the protective insulator or pierce it which can create an electrical hazard.
Reminder: Use only Christmas lights that have fused plugs. Get a set of new modern strands, if your old ones don’t have fuses. This is important because fused plugs help prevent sparks in case of a short circuit.
Another thing to be mindful of is to never overload the extension cords, adapters or any other power points because this is one of the most common causes of fires. The standard capacity for a power point is 2,300 watts, so maintain it within this limit.
Also you can install a power strip to the nearest receptacle to not only add a built-in circuit breaker but also to make turning the lights on and off easy.
- Selecting the Lights
The first thing to make certain when decorating your exterior space or part of the house is that the Christmas lights you are using are rated for outdoor use.
The lights might look similar but indoor lights have thinner insulation and as such they would short out when exposed to the elements which could be a hazard.
So, ensure the ones you intent to use outdoors are weatherproof. Like the indoor lights, you should also use light strands that have inner fuses for outdoor decoration to prevent excess current from flowing through the strands.
Another most important precaution to take is ensuring that all the outlets (or source of power) are properly grounded. The best option here is to use ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets that have built-in fuse.
These kind of outlets will help to prevent electric shock or electrocution as they will turn the circuit off in case of overcurrent. They will as well help save the fuses in your Christmas lights from burning out.
I would recommend hiring a licensed electrician to assist you in installing the GFCI outlets or alternatively, you can purchase a portable outdoor unit if you don’t want to go through all that process.
Now still on lights, I would also recommend getting water-resistance or waterproof lights, preferably those bearing the underwriters lab (UL) tag. This means that they meet the national industry standards based on the American National Standards Institute.
If you are going to set a Christmas tree outside, wrap an electrical tape around plugs that connect together. Doing so will help prevent debris from getting inside and protect them from water which in turn will reduce chances of shorts and shocks.
Note: The combination of a tinder-dry tree and shorts in electrical lights can be deadly.
Therefore, in case you are planning to decorate any tree on your yard with Christmas lights make sure to keep the tree well watered to prevent your house from burning down.
To sum it all, when it comes to exterior lights, three things are of great importance to ensure a safe installation. First, make certain that the lights are rated for outdoor use. Secondly, wrap an electrical tape around all plug connections and finally make sure the exterior outlet is protected by a GFCI.
- Putting up Exterior Lights
Same to putting lights indoors, you need to be cautious when installing exterior lighting. One of the vital areas you need to be cautious as far as your safety is concerned is when setting up and using the ladder.
Ladders can be dangerous and you don’t want to play around with them when dealing with electricity. So you need to be extra careful when using them.
Whether it’s a step or extension, you should make sure the ladder is sturdy against your house and firmly secured on the ground before climbing. If necessary, secure it with insulated holders.
For low eaves and levelled ground, a step ladder is an ideal choice. You should not sit or stand on the last two steps or leave tools sitting on them.
If the eaves are high, then the appropriate ladder to use is an extension ladder. Set it firmly on the ground and extend it well above the eaves then lean it against your house eaves at an angle that’s safe and comfortable to climb. Neither too flat nor too steep.
In case you are leaning the ladder against the gutter, you should put a short piece (probably 2 by 4) inside the gutter in order to reinforce it.
Note: If you are using the extension ladder, then remember that for each 4 ft. in height, you should pull the ladder out one foot from the edge or the wall.
Irrespective of the type of ladder you are using, always ensure that your belt buckle does not go well past the edge.
If you are going to use a metal ladder, make certain to keep it totally away from any overhead power line to avoid a fatal electrocution.
Another area caution should be taken apart from when using the ladder is when handling extension cords. The first thing you want to ensure is that all the cords you plan to use are rated for outdoor use.
As you run the extension cords along the ground, keep the connections well above ground with maybe a brick or something else to prevent debris, snow and water from getting into them.
Don’t run the cords in high-traffic areas and if they are to pass across walkways, then either tape them to the paths with a strong, waterproof tape or ensure they are covered with some sort of a dedicated cord protector.
In addition to this, I would recommend keeping the length of the cords as needed to reach your lights. If you leave them to be long such that you can’t tape all of them down they can pile up and end up being walking hazards.
When it comes to hanging the lights, you want to do so easily and safely. Therefore, you should mount the light strands carefully in order to prevent damaging the cord.
Do not use nails, screws or tacks when installing the lights on the roof to avoid piercing the cable and ending up being electrocuted. Instead, use plastic clips or insulated holders to safely secure them along the gutters. String hooks are the best.
Opting for plastic clips/hooks is also ideal since they will not damage the walls or trim. More importantly, you should work from the ladder as you install lights along the gutters.
Don’t get on the roof as it may end badly, especially if you are not sure of what you are doing. For hard to reach spots, consider using a hook helper to get the job done. Finally, never install lights on trees that are in contact with power lines.
The Bottom Line
Christmas is indeed a magical time of the year, so don’t let it be spoiled by an unexpected hazard that you could have prevented in the first place. The safety tips I have highlighted above will help you to properly and safely install your Christmas lights.
However, it’s upon you to take all necessary precautions to ensure that you, your family and friends enjoy a safe and beautiful holiday season. Don’t forget to check the lights periodically once installed to make sure that they continue to work properly.