Safety Tips For Hanging Holiday Lights Around The Home

Man installing Christmas lights

There’s nothing that boosts the festive spirit more than pops of red, blue and green holiday lighting, both on the tree in the living room, or on the exterior of the home – string lights over hedges or trees, outlining windows or door frames, or along the home’s roofline.

It’s particularly striking while walking or driving along a serene side street, especially as the snow falls. Hanging up outdoor string lights is a cherished tradition for many families, making the home feel even more welcoming for friends and family.

But there are safety factors that homeowners should be aware of when hanging  lights indoors or outdoors.

“When we’re talking about anything lighting related, especially around the holidays, that tends to be a common source of fires, tragedies or injuries. It’s always a good idea especially leading into the holiday season to put a bit of extra focus on these types of issues and where it can go wrong,” says Lewis Smith, manager, national projects, Canada Safety Council. “Because, especially in the context of the holidays, we don’t want to be dealing with that extra stress. It’s something that’s so easily avoidable with a bit of forward thinking, forward planning.”

Ten Safety Tips For Installing Holiday Lights

Here’s a list of priorities as you prep the home for the holiday season:

  • Water fresh trees daily. Dry trees are more likely to catch on fire. Lights can heat up, making the tree more susceptible to fire, says Dr. Tina Saryeddine, executive director of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC).
  • Always inspect lights and cords for damage before use. As you take the lights out of storage, have a look for broken bulbs, frayed or worn cables, as well as damage to any extension cords.
  • Don’t use electrical tape to patch any issues with cords.
  • Plug outdoor lights into a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet. These outlets provide electric shock protection, meaning it can stop power flow when there is an electrical current on an unintended path – through water, for instance. Outdoor light strings especially are prone to contact with water, whether through rain, ice, or melting snow. Should it get mixed with the electrical current, the GFCI can provide a fail-safe and cut the power.
  • Read the manufacturer’s instruction for the maximum number of light strands to connect to avoid electrical fires. Be careful not to overload the circuits. Check the labels on your circuit breaker to get a better sense of how much amperage each circuit can handle. If lights start flickering, or they’re warm to the touch, unplug and reconfigure.
  • Make sure to use the correct lights and wiring for interior and exterior decorating, the CAFC says.
  • Turn off the lights before going to sleep or leaving the home. This greatly reduces the risk of over-heating. Make it part of your routine at the end of the day, or even consider adding a timer for the outdoor lights. You’re more likely to forget to turn off the outdoor lights, and a shut-off timer means you’ll avoid having to go outside in the cold.
  • Only use CSA-approved lights. This certification ensures proper wiring and a product designed to withstand the electrical charge it receives. The CSA stamp of approval ensures that the LED light string has undergone rigorous testing and conforms to Canadian safety standards — a lack of this stamp indicates that there could be issues. Don’t risk it.
  • Go to the local hardware shop and pick up proper hardware to hang lights safely around the home. Don’t use nails or staples that can damage wires.
  • Use the right ladder to hang outside lights – metal ladders conduct electricity – and keep cords off the ground, or secure them so they aren’t lying around loosely, so you don’t trip.

The holidays are a time where family gathers, a festive season where one can settle back, reflect on the year that was while looking forward to the future. Knowing you’ve made safety a priority by implementing these tips will help bring peace of mind.