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Hanging Outdoor Christmas Lights: Avoiding Disaster

Safety Tips for Decorating Your Yard and Home During the Holidays


house with christmas lights

Lights all aglow: secure and out of a child's reach.

Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor for About.com
You don't need to be a certified electrician or hire one to light up your home and yard for the holidays. Simply follow the rules, educate yourself on lighting and electrical basics, and don't try to "mickey-mouse" any fixtures. May your holidays be merry and bright!About Those Extension Cords

If possible, use one long heavy-duty extension cord made for outdoors rather than several smaller ones.

Don't run extension cord from indoors to outdoors, through an open window or door. Not only will your house lose heat and your energy bill spike, but you run the risk of damaging the cord by inadvertently slamming or shutting a door or window. If there aren't any outdoor sockets, hire an electrician to install a couple outdoors -- you'll need them for other things, like outdoor power tools.

While a heavy-duty cord may be made for outdoor use, keep it away from moisture, metal and heat -- like a furnace or outdoor fireplace. Also make sure that the cord is not in a high-traffic area, where people or pets could trip and get hurt. Although it's more a matter of aesthetics than safety, try to match a cord to its environment. A heavy, bright-orange cord wrapped along your white porch railing is going to be an eyesore.

Keep Lights Away From Curious Creatures

Speaking of pets and people -- specifically, children -- try to keep the lights out of their reach or where they normally play. Think about low-lying areas, where a toddler could grab a light strand in seconds and pull it down. When designing a light display for a home in which small children live, place the lights (not the kids) up and out of the way. As the kids get older and know better, you can do more of the ground-based decorating.

Unplug First

If a bulb burns out, unplug the entire strand from the wall socket before replacing it. The same goes for inspecting the cord for fraying or rearranging light strands. To play it safe, avoid touching a lit display. Remember: unplug first. But don't unplug by pulling on the cord. And never force a three-prong plug into a two-prong outlet.

Baby, It's Cold and Wet Outside

Unless you live in the Southern hemisphere, like Australia -- where they have warm Christmases -- you will have to design your home light display with rain, snow and moisture in mind. Avoid placing lights and cords near puddle-prone areas of the yard, near a rain gutter, or other sources of water or moisture. All of that electrical stuff -- outlets, plugs, cords and extensions -- should be kept in a dry, sheltered area. Why? Well, for starters, you want to prevent any potential for electric shock.

If rain or wind is in the forecast, unplug the light show in your yard. Move plastic blow-mold figures inside, deflate the airblown decorations, pull up yard stake lights and give 'em shelter. For objects that are securely anchored or too large, cover them with tarps or plastic and secure them tightly to keep as dry as possible. After the storm has passed, you don't want to rescue your 6-foot inflatable sock monkey from your neighbor's magnolia tree.

The Lights Are On, But No One's Home

To save energy, don't turn on the lights when you're away from the house, and be sure to turn them off before you go to bed. Better yet, buy a timer. The three types include:

  1. Digital
  2. Conventional / manual
  3. Photocell

By taking the time to plan your outdoor light display and familiarizing yourself with the electrical outlets, circuits, breaker and cords, the installation should be quicker than taking a stab in the dark.

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