How To Safely Set Up Holiday Lighting And Avoid Electrical Hazards

Getting your home ready for the holidays can be a lot of fun, but it also requires some careful planning. If you've never strung lights, you may not know where to begin. Here are four steps to becoming the envy of the neighborhood while also avoiding electrical hazards when setting up your holiday lighting.

1. Checking the Lights

When it comes to holiday lighting, there's nothing more frustrating than getting everything hung with care and plugged in, just to discover that multiple bulbs are burned out. But worse than that is the risk it poses to your family's safety. So, before doing anything else, check those lights for the following problems:

Missing bulbs.

These pose an electrical shock hazard to small fingers. If you're missing any bulbs, replace them or cover the opening with electrical tape.

Frayed wires.

Exposed, torn, or frayed wires pose an electrocution and fire hazard. Throw them out!

No "UL" label.

All holiday lighting should have the "UL" label on the tag. This means it has been inspected by Underwriters Laboratories and is deemed safe. A red mark on the tag indicates that the lights are for outdoor use, and green means they should only be used inside.

Missing fuses.

Examine the plug on all strings of lights to be sure they have a built-in fuse. You can usually tell with a quick glance, and some have a plastic panel that slides open with your thumb.

Once everything looks good, plug in the lights to be sure they actually work, and you're ready to move on to the next step.

2. Finding the Perfect Spot

If this is your first year setting up holiday lights or you simply want a change, there are a few rules to follow when selecting the perfect spot for your decorations.

When hanging lights outside, be sure you can access the location safely and easily. Ladders should be solidly secured on the ground, and you shouldn't be anywhere near a power line to get the job done. It's also best to avoid areas where the lights could become submerged in water or covered in ice and snow and obscured from your field of vision.

When setting up indoor lights, make sure they don't come in contact with drapes, curtains, carpet, or furniture. Also be sure that wires and cords are not lying across high-traffic areas where they could trip someone.

3. Hanging the Lights

If you plan to string lights along a roof, fencing, or any other outdoor prop, it's vital to use the right attachment device. Staples and tacks are a bad idea, even if you think you're avoiding the wires, because there's always a danger of unknowingly piercing them.

There are a number of options, from hooks to clips, and it all depends on personal preference and location. Clips are ideal for stringing lights along gutters or roofing. You can also use hooks that hang from the gutters, feeding the cord through the plastic opening. Parapet clips are used on flat surfaces, and they can be affixed with screws or an adhesive if you prefer to avoid drilling holes in your property or belongings. 

4. Supplying the Power

Once your lights are mounted and you're ready to plug everything in, follow these tips to be sure your home is free from electrical hazards.

  1. Use heavy-duty extension cords rated for outdoor use, and do not overload the plug with more extension cords. Lights and inflatables should be plugged into outlets or circuits that are GFCI protected. This means they have a ground fault circuit interrupter to protect against electrical shock.
  2. Be sure to use extension cords that have three prongs and are polarized (one prong on the plug is bigger than the other). Non-polarized plugs are more likely to cause electrical shock. 
  3. Make sure all outdoor cords are out of the line of traffic and aren't in danger of being trampled by pets.
  4. Consider using a timer on your outdoor lights so they don't stay on all night and run up your electric bill. 

If you need have more questions about safely hanging your holiday lights this season, contact an electrician from companies like McDonald Electric.