It’s the most wonderful time of the year—children are on their best behavior, feasting is an accepted pastime, and Christmas lights twinkle down every street.  Out of all of the holiday preparation that goes into making the magic of the season, hanging outdoor Christmas lights is perhaps the most precarious (unless, of course, you are frying a turkey for Christmas dinner—but that’s another topic entirely).  Whether you are creating your own LED masterpiece a-la Clark Griswold, or assisting an aging loved one, it is imperative to follow a few simple (yet crucial) steps to make sure that you spend your holidays at home (not in the hospital).

Subscribe to the Buddy System

There is safety in numbers, and silly though it may sound, hanging Christmas lights is no exception to this rule.  Having just one other person makes a monumental difference in installation safety, time, and effort.  For example–when using a ladder to reach the gutters, it is beyond beneficial to have another person there to hand you clips, lights, etc.  The buddy system will eliminate your up-and-down the ladder trips, and thus decrease your odds of falling off of the ladder due to reaching, fatigue, or haste.  If you can’t immediately get at least one other person to help, it is advisable to wait.  Should you insist on going it alone, make sure to work within your means, and consider investing in a harness.

Asses your Materials

It is crucial to check the integrity of your light strings and extension cords; if any are broken, cracked, or frayed, do NOT use them.  While you’re checking on the condition of the materials, make sure that all of the bulbs are fully functioning.  If any are broken or dead, replace them now while it’s convenient.  Follow the instructions on the manufacturer’s boxes regarding light connections and maximum string attachments in order to avoid blowing the circuit.  Measure the area(s) you want to cover to make sure that you have enough lights; this isn’t a deficit you want to discover hours into the project.  If you are doing this solo and in regards to the harness suggestion above, think about investing in a full body harness, vertical lifeline, or roof anchor.

Let there be Light

Once you have a buddy (or harness), the right amount of properly functioning materials, and a precipitation-free day, proceed with operation Christmas-lights.  When climbing the ladder to hang lights off of the gutter, don’t lift an uncomfortable or awkward amount of weight.  Jerking and straining your back half-way up a ladder is nobody’s idea of a good time.  Do not staple lights to the roof; rather, use hooks to either hang them from the gutter or the shingles.  Make sure that the ground where you are resting the ladder is flat and solid—otherwise don’t risk it.  If the home you are decorating has multiple stories, consider hanging wreathes or lighted displays in the windows rather than attempting to hang lights off of the second/third story.  If you start to run out of daylight, find a stopping point and continue the project the next day.

It is important to remember that no decorative project is worth jeopardizing your health.  Your loved ones and neighbors alike will understand if you can’t safely attempt to totally light up your home.  If, however, you plan on successfully installing outdoor Christmas lights this year, just keep these simple tips in mind in order to have a happy (and safe!) holiday season.


Madison Hill  is a Seattle-based mother of two who takes pride is still being able to embarrass her children despite their ages.  She spends her free time deciphering petroglyphs and pictographs.  When she’s not pruning her bonsai tree or baking homemade shoofly pie, you can find her writing about home care.