Christmas lights hanging on outdoor tree.

Holiday Light Safety: Tips for a Merry and Bright Season

A beloved holiday tradition is watching Clark Griswold attempt to light his entire house on Christmas Vacation (i.e., “250 strands of lights, 100 individual bulbs per strand for a grand total of 25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights”). 

That movie demonstrates nearly every home safety hazard known to mankind—and a few we’ve never even contemplated. While watching Clark in action can be amusing, the fictional lighting scene presents real safety challenges that happen this time of year. 


Experts estimate that over 1,100 home fires each year begin with holiday decorations? And guess what. That number doesn’t even count Christmas tree fires. 

Additionally, roughly 5,800 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms yearly due to injuries from ladder or roof falls while putting up holiday decorations. Finally, there are approximately 4,000 injuries from extension cords, either from tripping or electrical burns and shocks.

Holiday Electrical Safety Checklist

The holidays are a special time for gathering with loved ones, not spending time in the hospital for injuries. We’d rather you and your family not appear on a dreary list of safety statistics. 

So, we’ve pulled together a list of holiday lighting safety tips to guide your festive outdoor installation.

Inspect & Replace

Inspect your current boxes of electric lights for signs of wear, cracked or broken bulbs, and any exposed wires. Then, when replacing those strings of lights, look for outdoor-rated lights. Outdoor rated by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) means they have been tested for rain, high humidity, and other outdoor hazards.

Consider purchasing LED lights that save power due to low electricity requirements and do not get hot to the touch. Do not connect LED lights to the same string as incandescent lights, as you can fry the LED string, creating a fire hazard.

Divide and Decorate

Ensure you never string too many lights together, which can overload electrical circuits. The rule of thumb is no more than three light strings together. And do not overload electrical outlets with too many cords plugged into the same outlet.

Watch the Extension Cords

Avoid running extension cords or light strings through a doorway or window. The pressure of the window or door can break the wires or wear them down, causing an electric shock hazard. Instead, prevent tripping hazards by running extension cords along the outside walls—away from doorways and sidewalks. 

Another thing to watch is that extension cord junctions stay out of the snow and water on the ground. So be sure to elevate them to prevent electrical short circuits. 

Choose GFCI Protection

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) protection is essential for all outdoor electrical outlets. Install weather-resistant GFCI outlets, which are also tamper-resistant.

Use Non-Metal Binding Materials

Never use metal staples, tacks or nails, as they can pierce insulated electrical wires. Instead, use nonconductive plastic hooks.

Steer Clear of Power Lines

Keep well clear of any power lines during your installation. For example, don’t string lights over the top of the electrical wires running to your home. Instead, leave at least ten feet for the lights and your working positions.

Turn Off When Not Home

Turn off all indoor and outdoor decorative lights before leaving home or heading to bed. Also, consider a programmable timer that can activate your lights at just the right time of the evening and turn them off later for safety.

More Tips for Outdoor Christmas Light Safety

When hanging lights, make sure you follow ladder safety practices. Make hanging lights a two-person sport. Have one on the ladder and the other spotting the ladder to ensure it doesn’t tip. 

On that point, don’t extend your body further than parallel with the ladder. Hanging out to get to the last point on the roof with your last light string can quickly bring the ladder and you crashing to the ground. 

Finally, consider a wooden or fiberglass ladder for electrical safety to avoid shock hazards.

Please make sure you and your family follow these holiday lighting safety tips to stay safe this year whether you’re installing or turning on holiday decorations. Don’t use Clark Griswold as your holiday safety model!

Help for All Workplace Safety Issues

We may not be professional decorators, but we can help with your workplace safety needs and OSHA requirements. Check out our safety services to learn more and remember to browse our library of resources for tips and helpful guides on staying OSHA compliant.

We offer free initial phone consultations. Call 763-417-9599, email us at, or complete our contact form, and we’ll be in touch. 

From all of us at OECS, we wish you a safe, fun holiday season!