9 Safety Tips for Hanging Holiday Lights

by James Florence

It’s that time of year again—time to deck the halls (or, more accurately, the walls of your home) with holiday lights and décor. While this is a great way to celebrate the season, it’s important to take precautions when decorating your home exterior. If you aren’t careful, you could potentially injure yourself or create unsafe conditions on your property. To avoid problems, follow these safety tips:


1. Make sure all light strands are rated for exterior use. Indoor-only lights can’t be used outdoors—since they aren’t insulated like outdoor lights, exposure to moisture could render them hazardous.

2. Inspect each light strand for cracked/frayed cords and sockets with broken/missing bulbs. Dispose of any strands that appear damaged. You should also check for current UL listings—if you find any with expired listings, throw them away. Buying new lights is much cheaper than dealing with fire damage or a visit to the hospital.

3. If you’re buying new light strands, make sure they’re LED. Since LEDs pull far fewer amps than conventional bulbs, they’ll cut down on energy use and lower your electric bill.

4. Don’t connect more than three light strands together. The exception is if you’re using LED lights, in which case, you can connect as many as you want.

5. When accessing your roof to hang lights, use an extension ladder. Extension ladders provide more stability than A-frame ladders. Rest the ladder against the gutters or edge of the roof and make sure it’s positioned at a safe angle. Consider using a wood or fiberglass (as opposed to metal) ladder to reduce the risk of electric shock. To ensure safety, have a spotter with you at all times.

6. If your gutters are full of debris, clean them out before hanging your lights. Dry leaves and electrical wires aren’t a great combination.

7. Don’t use nails or staples to attach light strands to your roof. These types of adhesives can cut through the wire insulation and create a fire hazard. Instead, use UL-approved clips or hangers.

8. Whenever possible, connect outdoor lights to a grounded outlet with GFI protection. In the event of an overload, a GFI-protected outlet will automatically shut off in order to prevent a fire. If you need help installing the new outlet, hire an electrical contractor.

9. Take your time. Rushing the job is one of the surest ways to cause an injury. Never extend your body further than parallel with the ladder—it’s much safer to decorate one small area at a time and move the ladder more frequently.