November Checklist for Safe Holiday Lighting

Marilu Trainor

It’s the time of the year to bring out the boxes of holiday lights. These pretty decorations don’t come without risk, though. Falls, electrocution, and shorting out are real possibilities. With proper preparation and safe practices, you can avoid those dangerous situations while decorating.

“We respond to calls that involve falls from ladders and overloading of electrical outlets,” said Mario Santos, a captain/paramedic with the Goodyear Fire Department. “We recommend working with a partner who holds the ladder, and use power strips with surge protectors.”

Here are some tips on how to stay safe while planning—and get the most from—your holiday displays.


* Discard any lights that are damaged. Replace burned-out bulbs promptly.

* Test that outdoor GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets are still working.

* All outdoor lighting must be UL-rated for exterior use.

* Splurge on heavy-duty extension cords that are UL-listed for outdoor use.


* Don’t attach light strings with nails or staples. Only use UL-approved hangers.

* Avoid hanging lights along the roof line or gutters. Use of a ladder increases the risk of falls that could cause serious injuries by 31%. Use an approved lighting installer instead.

* Don’t link more than three strands of holiday lights—a maximum of 600 incandescent mini lights (regardless of the number of strings) plugged into a single outlet. If you’re using LEDs, most UL-labeled lights will tell you on the package how many strings of lights you can safely string together.

* LEDs cost less to light. LED Christmas lights use roughly 70% to 90% less energy and last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. You can safely connect many more LED light strings than incandescent lights.

* Consider a programmable timer to your lights to ensure lights are not accidentally left on.

* Unplug tree lights and decorative outdoor lighting before leaving the house or going to bed.

* Keep cords out of water and away from metal objects.

Extension cords:

* Only extension cords UL-rated for outdoors should be used. Indoor cords can short out if they get wet, potentially causing damage to your outlets and lights.

* Extension cords have power limits. Be sure to match your lights’ power needs (amperage) with the amperage rating of extension cords.

* Never run cords under rugs or coil them tightly around themselves, which can cause them to overheat.

After the holidays:

* Take exterior lights down within 90 days. The longer they stay up, the more likely they are to suffer damage from weather and critters chewing on them. You’ll also save money by not replacing them next year.

* Store them in a ball.

* Observe your HOA’s lighting dates.