The Ultimate Guide to Christmas Lights

Written by | Updated November 29, 2016


Christmas lights instantly transform your home during the holiday season. The first Christmas light was created in 1882, and since the 1930s, families have used strings of lights to decorate their homes. Today, there are dozens of styles and types of Christmas lights, making it difficult to choose what is the best — and safest — option for your home.

We’ve compiled a guide to the best, worst, and most dangerous Christmas lights, and how to safely hang them.

The Power of LED

LEDs are our top pick for Christmas lights, largely due to their energy-efficiency, long life cycle, and increased safety. In comparison to the traditional incandescent bulb, LED lights last up to 25 times longer and use 75 percent less electricity. Because they produce little heat, there is a reduced risk of a fire. Although LED lights cost more upfront than incandescent lights, you can save money in the end by using less energy and replacing them less often.

LED lights can sometimes appear a harsh white or blue. These outdoor string lights aren’t only a softer, warm white, but they’re also solar powered. Best part is they’ll only set you back about $15 on Amazon.

Avoid C-9 Retro Bulbs

A C-9 retro bulb is a large, bright light with a retro-inspired design. Although these bulbs make quite a visual impact, they also get very hot and use a lot of power. If you use these lights, frequently check on the generated heat to avoid a potential fire or electrical short. Your energy bill may also significantly increase if you keep the lights on all night throughout the season.

The rule of three plays an important role in home design, and the same goes for Christmas lights. If you use incandescent lights, don’t connect more than three strings on a single run. This helps reduce the chances of an electrical shortage. Measure the length of each space on which you want to hang lights. For long spaces, such as the length of your home, purchase a longer string of lights so you don’t have to connect more than three strings together. Keep all of the lengths the same when connecting them together. The wires of a 20-foot light string have different amperage than that of a 10-foot string, and you don’t want to mix them.

Safely Hang Lights

Never staple or nail a light string into your roof, wall, or baseboard, as this can damage the wire insulation. For exterior lighting, drape a string of lights over a nail. For interior lights, use hanging clips.

Set a Light Schedule

Set your Christmas lights on a timer to reduce energy usage and help prevent any potential fires or problems. Schedule lights to turn on at sunset and turn off when you typically go to sleep. Timers like the one below work perfectly.

Use Separate Lighting Indoors and Outdoors

Always use outdoor lighting outdoors and indoor lighting indoors. Exterior Christmas lights can be too hot for indoor use, and you need weather-resistant lights for exterior use. While many of today’s Christmas lights can be used both indoors and outdoors, double-check the packaging. When in doubt, get LED lights — they are safe for both interior and exterior use.

You can keep your holiday decor merry and safe by using energy-efficient Christmas lights and carefully hanging them throughout your home and yard. Fair warning: your home may look so cozy and cheerful you’ll have trouble forcing yourself to pack your lights into storage come January!

Written by Hillary Johnston

A proud mother of four, Hillary is passionate about safety education. She holds a degree in Public Health and Disaster Management. Learn more

Share this article.