We all love those great holiday decorations that brighten our homes and neighborhoods. And while exterior lighting is safe and easy to work with, you still need to follow a few common-sense safety precautions.

Watch those ladders: All step ladders and extension ladders have weight ratings and maximum height ratings, so don’t exceed either. Set them up on solid ground, and don’t overreach. When working on wet, icy or frozen ground, be extra cautious about where and how you set up your ladders.

Read the labels: When selecting lights, extension cords or outside decorations, check the packaging or read the instructions carefully. Be sure that the manufacturer has labeled the item as approved for use in exterior locations. If an item says that it’s for indoor use only, don’t use it outside, even temporarily.

Also, some items are labeled for exterior use, but not for wet locations. In other words, you can use them outdoors, but only if they’re protected, such as under the eaves or under a patio cover. If that’s the case, be sure it’s not a place where it’s directly exposed to rain or snow.

Visually inspect everything: When you get your lights ready to hang, take a moment to check the bulbs, sockets, light cords and extension cords for nicks, cuts, broken insulation or exposed wires. Discard damaged lights and cords.

Grounded means grounded: If you have an extension cord or a decoration with a three-prong plug, that means it’s intended to be plugged into a grounded outlet. Don’t use any cord if the grounding leg has been removed or damaged. Never try to force a three-prong male plug into a two-prong cord or outlet.

To properly adapt a three-prong cord to a two-prong outlet, use a UL-approved adapter plug with an attached ground wire. Be sure that the ground wire is connected to a proper ground source, such as a cold water pipe or a grounding rod driven into the ground.

Spot the right holder: Want to use some outdoor spot lights? Use an approved lamp holder to hold the bulb. Most types have a gasket for sealing the bulb in the socket, and some types have a metal or plastic spike attached to simplify staking the light securely to the ground. …CONTINUED

The fuse is there for a reason: Most of today’s exterior light sets use a male plug with a tiny fuse inside, located in the plug behind a small hinged or sliding cover. If a fuse burns out, replacements are included with the light set, or may be purchased where you bought the light set. Don’t attempt to bypass the fuse with a wire or a piece of metal, and if the fuse burns out repeatedly, discard the set of lights.

Consider LEDs: LED exterior lights use less energy and generate less heat than traditional bulbs, so they’re a good alternative. They’re also typically not as bright, so take that into consideration as well. If you’re going to stick with conventional lights, remember that miniatures use less energy and create less heat than the larger bulbs, but you always want to be careful around combustibles.

Use a little tape: When connecting two or more strings of lights together, wrap a strip of electrical tape around the plug connections. This prevents the strings from being disconnected, and also protects the connection from the elements. You should also tape the unused female plug at the end of the light run.

Timers save energy: You can save some energy and have the added bonus of safe and convenient operation of exterior lights and decorations by adding a timer. Some timers operate on a time dial, turning the lights on and off at preselected times of the day. Other light-control timers operate on a photocell, which turns the lights on when the photocell senses that it’s dark enough outside.

A switch on the photocell allows you to select "dusk to dawn" operation, or intervals ranging from two to eight hours before the lights shut off. Whatever style you choose, be sure it’s rated for exterior use.

Skip the staples: For safety and convenience, buy some hooks for hanging exterior lights and decorations, rather than nailing or stapling them up. Staples can easily damage the insulation jacket on the outside of the wire and create corrosion in the wire or a short circuit against the staple.

UL ratings: Always look for lights, cords and decorations that carry the Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL) stamp of approval, which indicates that the product has been rigorously tested and is safe when used as advertised.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at paulbianchina@inman.com.


What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

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