Outdoor Christmas Lighting Safety Tips
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Outdoor Christmas Lighting Safety Tips

How to safely install Christmas lights for the holidays.

Many homeowners choose to decorate the exterior of their homes with holiday lighting to celebrate Christmas. But hundreds of homes each year are damaged by faulty electrical lighting, overloaded circuits, and poor planning. It is important that your exterior Christmas lights are as safe as possible and that you are using common sense.

According to FEMA, each year fires occurring during the holiday season claim the lives of over 400 people, injure 1,650 more, and cause over $990 million in damage. According to the United States Fire Administration (USFA), there are simple life-saving steps you can take to ensure a safe and happy holiday. By following some of the outlined precautionary tips, individuals can greatly reduce their chances of becoming a holiday fire casualty.

Outdoor Light Sets

The majority of outdoor light sets sold today utilize a male plug with two small fuses inside. These are located in the plug behind a small cover. Never attempt to bypass or otherwise alter the fuse or the fuse sockets. If a fuse burns out, replacements are included with the light set, or may be purchased separately at any store where light sets are sold. If the fuse continues to burn out in a short period of time, the cord may have a short or you have too many lights strung together.

Miniature lights are generally safer than larger bulbs, since they build up less heat. While light strings with larger bulbs are fine for most exterior situations, miniature lights should be used if the light strings are to be placed near materials that may be combustible. When connecting two or more strings of lights together, wrap a piece of electrical tape around the plug connections. This prevents the strings from being disconnected, and also protects the connection from the elements. You should also tape the unused female plug at the end of the light run.

Consider using LED light sets as they use less electricity, are cooler, and the bulbs do not use filaments which will not burn out.


Here are several ways you can ensure that your outdoor Christmas lighting is as safe as possible.

• Avoid using the larger seven-volt light bulbs. One of the most common causes of holiday house fires results from these bulbs being too close to gutters filled with dried leaves or touching evergreens shrubs and trees.

• Make sure that the strings of lights you are using outside have built-in fuses. Typically they are 3A mini-fuses.

• Make sure to use Christmas lights that are designated for outdoor use only. If you use indoor-rated lights, they may not be able to withstand the weather conditions which will cause them to deteriorate much faster.

• When stringing the light sets, add extra support nears the ends where the plugs are. The wires on the ends of the string should never support the full weight of the light set.

• Never hang any objects or decorations from the light sets. Use a separate hook attached to the house to hang additional items.

• You should only use Christmas lights and electric equipment that has been tested and verified by a reliable testing laboratory such as UL, CSA, CE, and ETL. Any equipment or lights that have been tested safe will have one of their logos on the packaging.

• When installing lights, be sure to read and follow the manufacturer's instructions. These instructions should be stored with the lights and referred to when purchasing replacement bulbs and on future installations.

• Check the manufacturer's guidelines to determine the number of light strings that may be safely plugged together. If the packaging does not indicate the number, connect no more than three light strings together.

• Do not link more than three light strands, unless the directions indicate it is safe. Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet. Make sure to periodically check the wires - they should not be warm to the touch.

• Use extension cords designed for outdoor use with three-prong plugs. Never use an indoor cord or a cord without the grounding prong. Plug the cord into a grounded outlet and select a cord with the shortest length that works for your project. Do not use a 100-foot extension cord for a 10-foot distance. Keep outdoor electrical connections above the ground and out of the snow and water. If extension cords must cross walkways, tape them down.

• If you have a string of lights with a blown bulb, be sure to replace it with a bulb of similar type and wattage.

• Keep Christmas light sets away from overhead power lines or the electrical feed from the street to your home.

• All plugs should be plugged into a GFCI protected outlet when used outside.

• Purchase appropriately sized timers to automatically turn lights on and off. Lights should be turned off when people are not present and they should not be left on overnight.

• Always work from a stable ladder or the ground. Never reach over roof eaves to attach lights to gutters. If possible, work with a partner.

• Avoid using nails, tacks or metal staples to secure your outdoor Christmas lights. Use insulated hooks or staples. Make sure that the lights are strung tightly to avoid wind damage.

• Use plastic or vinyl-coated hooks to attach light sets to gutters. Using bare wire, metal hooks, or running the lights through gutter fasteners can cut into the wire insulation on the light set and cause a short.

Lights hung without using clips

Gutter Clips

• Use approved clips to attach lights along eaves so that the light bulbs do not come in contact with the roof shingles or other combustible building materials.

• Take down your lights at the end of the holiday season. Christmas light sets are not designed to be exposed to the elements for prolonged periods.

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UL: Underwriters Laboratories Inc.

CSA: Canadian Standards Association

ETL: Originally a mark of ETL Testing Laboratories

CE: Conformance European

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Comments (5)

You have mentioned some awful statistics about deaths due to improper use of Christmas lights which I was not aware of them being that high.My biggest safety issue is elevating my blood pressure untangling the little devils.

Excellent article! The stats drive home the importance of safety.

Ranked #16 in Home Safety

This is a very timely and extremely important article Daniel.

Very timely and it's good to remind people about putting them up.

Thanks for the information, we rarely think of the hazards of outdoor light..voted