13 Safety Tips for Christmas Lights

Updated: Nov. 28, 2023

Christmas lights can present a hazard inside and outside the house if precautions aren't taken. Make sure you know these Christmas light dangers.

This house had been badly burned earlier this year. The all volenteer fire department demolished the remains with a controlled burn in the early morning hours.FLASHPOINT/GETTY IMAGES

Holiday Fires

This holiday season, don’t forget about the potential hazards your Christmas tree lights can present in your home. U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 160 home fires each holiday season from 2014-18 with an average of two deaths, 14 injuries and $10 million in property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Lighting equipment and electrical distribution accounted for 45 percent of home Christmas tree fires. Here are the holiday light dangers you need to know:

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Christmas Tree Lights
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Don’t Use Electric Lights on a Metal Tree

Electrical shock and fire are risks with this combination. Decorate these trees with ornaments, garland, or tinsel, but nothing that needs to be plugged in.

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Don’t Leave Lights on Overnight or When You’re Away

Whether your tree is live or artificial, unplug the tree lights before leaving the house or going to bed. It’s a small step, but make it a habit each time.

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Decorated Christmas tree, blazing fire in fireplace, stockings, rocking chair
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Flame and Trees Don’t Mix

Your tree might look nice near the fireplace, but resist the urge to set it up there. Keep the tree at least 3 feet from fireplaces, as well as lit candles.

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Young Woman Choosing Christmas Decoration On A Christmas Market In Barcelona, Spain
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Verify Proper Rating

Be skeptical of discount Christmas lights and make sure they have a product safety testing logo, either from Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) or Intertek (ETL Semko).

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Christmas Lights
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Holding Christmas lights

Check for Fraying

A lot of things can happen in a year when you store your Christmas lights. Depending upon where you store your Christmas decorations, you could encounter some damage to your lights.

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Use Indoor Lights Indoors and Outdoor Lights Outside

It seems pretty obvious but people sometimes think they’re interchangeable. They’re not — unless they’re marked that way on the package. Lights designed for outdoor use are made to withstand cold and wet conditions. Indoor lights are safety tested so they’re not a fire hazard for trees, but they’re not durable enough for outdoors.

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Putting On Christmas Tree Lights
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Never Use Staples, Tacks or Nails to Hang Lights

Staples, tacks and nails can pierce Christmas light strands and create a potential electrical shock.

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Christmas Light Bag
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Extension Cords

Make sure extension cords are in good shape and don’t overload them. Place them in a area where they won’t be a tripping hazard and they won’t topple your Christmas tree and decorations. In other words, don’t try to emulate Clark Griswold this winter.

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christmas tree lights bulb tester
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Bulb Replacement

It’s dangerous to plug in a strand of Christmas lights with an empty socket, so it’s important to test your Christmas lights with a bulb tester.

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Christmas Disaster
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Know How Many Strands You Can Connect

The rule of thumb is that you can only string three strands of traditional incandescent lights together safely. Any more than that and we’ve created a potentially dangerous electrical situation. If you’re using LED lights, you can probably relax — as many as 40-50 LED mini-light strands can be strung together safely.

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Male Hands Water A Potted Christmas Tree
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Keep Your Live Tree Hydrated

If you’re celebrating with a live Christmas tree, be sure to keep it watered. In the event of a fire, a dry tree will burn much faster than a well-watered one. Don’t forget to check out these other fire safety tips for the holiday season.

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Use GFCI Outlets for Outdoor Lights

A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) reduces the danger of deadly shock from faulty plug-in cords and devices. It will detect dangerous ground faults and immediately turn off the power. While you’re at it, get to know the reason behind the red-tipped Christmas lights.

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Stylish christmas decorations, red jingle bells, lights, fir branches with ornaments on balcony in european city street. Festive decor and illumination in city center, winter holidays
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Don’t Run Lights Through Windows or Doors

It should go without saying but you shouldn’t run lights through doors and windows because the cord can become damaged, creating a dangerous electrical situation.