How to Safely Install Christmas Lights

Tips for Preventing Electrical Shorts, Fire, and Injury

Christmas lights are a joy to behold during the holiday season but can pose hazards to your home and family if not properly installed or stored. This is no small matter. According to the National Fire Protection Associaton (NPFA), around 800 home fires are started each year by faulty Christmas lights while another 170 are caused by Christmas trees, resulting in over $23 million in property damage.

From 2012 to 2016, 37% of Christmas light fires and 43% of Christmas tree fires were caused by faulty electricals or lighting equipment.

Even more sobering is the fact that one of every 45 fires caused by a Christmas tree resulted in a death.

Tips for Safely Installing Christmas Lights

Verywell / Zoe Hansen

Fires are not the only concern. Each year, nearly 10,000 people are treated in emergency rooms for injuries sustained while installing Christmas lights and decorations, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI). These include falls from ladders as well as fractures, lacerations, sprains, or contusions caused by tripping over an electrical cord.

To avoid such calamities, take the time to educate yourself about Christmas light safety, including how to choose, install, and remove lights each holiday season.

Choosing the Right Lights

Christmas lights are not forever. Even though you may regard them as family heirlooms, older lights may not only lack current safety features but also fail to meet the standards of the National Electrical Code (NEC).

Before you even think about installing older lights, check to see if the cords are cracked or unfrayed, or if there are any loose or broken sockets. If there are, it is better to throw the lights away than trying to repair them with electrician's tape.

You should also discard any Christmas lights or extension cords that don't have fuses in the plugs. Fuses are the primary safety feature if there is an electrical short or circuit overload.

When choosing Christmas lights:

  • Opt for those that have been tested and approved by a reputable certifying body such as the Underwriter's Laboratories (UL) or the Electrical Testing Lab (ETL). The certification will be marked on the packaging.
  • LED lights are generally the best choice. They use much less energy and do not emit heat.
  • If you don't have LED lights, try to use the cooler-burning mini lights as opposed to the traditional larger bulbs. The older-style bulbs often emit enough heat to ignite dry tree needles and other flammable materials.
  • If installing exterior Christmas lights, use only those approved for outdoor use. The same applies to extension cords.
  • In cold winter weather, only use outdoor extension cords approved for winter use. Most can withstand temperature well below 0 degrees F. Regular extension cords can easily crack in these temperatures.

Installing Christmas Lights

The first rule to installing Christmas lights is to never do it on your own. In the unfortunate event, a fall or injury occurs, at least someone will be there to call 911. There are other insights that can help:

  • Check that the lights work before installing them. The bulbs are far easier to replace when you are on solid ground.
  • If a bulb is burned out, replace it with a bulb with the same wattage.
  • If using a live Christmas tree, be sure that there is plenty of water in the well. Be sure to check and replenish the water regularly to prevent the tree from drying out.
  • Never hang Christmas lights on a metal tree. The tree can become charged with electricity and shock someone. It can also short out the lights and cause a fire.
  • Tape down any extension cords to prevent people from tripping over them.
  • Always use the appropriate ladder that extends within easy reach of where you place to string the lights. Never stand on the upper rung or top of the ladder.
  • Never place a ladder atop another surface for extra height.
  • Only use insulated wire holders or coaxial cable holders to install Christmas lights. Never install lights with tacks, nails, or screws.
  • Never splice two strings of light together with electrical tape or even a twist-on connector. Instead of cutting wire, play it safe by purchasing a fused connector from the manufacturer or a local hardware store.
  • Stay well away from power lines or feeder lines that run from electrical poles to your house.
  • Never overload an extension cord with additional socket adapters. Doing so increases the risk of a short and an electrical fire.
  • When running extension cords along the ground, elevate the plugs and connectors with a brick to keep snow, water, and debris out of the connection.
  • Because water and debris can get into outdoor sockets, ensure that the lights are plugged into a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet to prevent shorts and shocks. If you don't know what that is, you may want to consider hiring an electrician.
  • Never install outdoor Christmas lights in bad or windy weather.

Finally and most importantly, never leave Christmas lights on overnight and while you are away. You should even consider turning off Christmas tree lights if you are not in the room.

Removing Christmas Lights

You should take as much care removing Christmas lights as you did putting them up. Among the considerations:

  • Never pull the lights down by yanking them. Yanking the cords will only damage them.
  • Replace any burnt-out bulbs before putting the lights back in their box. This also gives you the chance to inspect the cords and sockets.
  • If there is any moisture or debris, takes a damp cloth to wipe the fixture clean. Do not submerge any part of the Christmas lights in water.
  • Avoid tossing the bundled lights into a box. If you do, you'll end up spending a lot of untangling and possibly damaging them next year.
  • After stringing the lights neatly in their original box, store them in a sealed plastic container to block moisture and rodents.
  • Never store Christmas lights near the furnace or anywhere where there is extreme heat. Doing so can possibly melt and damage the insulation or light sockets.
5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Fire Protection Association. Home Structure Fires Involving Christmas Trees.

  2. Electrical Safety Foundation International. Holiday Data and Statistics: Proven Need for Holiday Safety Awareness.

  3. Electrical Safety Foundation International. ESFI Indoor Lights and Electrical Decorations Safety Tips.

  4. US National Park Service. Fire Prevention 52: Deck the Halls Safely.

  5. Electrical Safety Foundation International E. ESFI Wrapping Up the Holiday Season.

By Rod Brouhard, EMT-P
Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.