How to safely decorate your home with holiday lights

ST. LOUIS, MO —  Putting up decorations? Your goal this year is to do better than Clark Griswold. To help you succeed, we've asked Vatterott College electrical program director Anthony Laconey how to best decorate your home.

Tips from the expert:

Only purchase lights, electronic decorations and extension cords that are UL-Listed. UL is a safety certification, so these lights have been tested and approved by a recognized safety-testing agency. Show off UL tag on some sample lights/decorations.

Don`t over load outlets. No more than three strands of traditional lights should be plugged into each electrical cord or outlet. Also watch that you don`t have multiple power strips plugged into one circuit.
Show an overloaded power strip and pull extra cords out, leaving just three.

Consider purchasing LED lights. These lights use less energy and run cooler than traditional incandescent lights. Since LEDs are more low-voltage (and actually brighter than traditional lights), you can safely put up to 35 strands on one circuit without tripping the breaker.  Show off LED lights, next to regular lights, to see difference. If possible, plug in and show how they burn brighter.

Keep the indoor lights indoors. Putting indoor-only products outside in the weather can result in electric shock and fire hazards, so check the labels carefully to make sure your lights are safe to use outdoors.
Show on the packaging where it says 'indoor' and 'outdoor'.

All outdoor lights should be plugged into GFCI outlets. Ground fault circuit interrupters are special outlets that are installed in areas where there is a risk of electricity meeting water. You can tell it GFCI if the outlet has the 'test' and 'reset' buttons. These outlets monitor the flow of electrical current in the circuit and shuts off the energy flow if there`s a problem.
Show a GFCI outlet and point out the test and reset buttons.

Inspect for damage. Check all lights, electric decorations and extension cords for signs of damage to wire insulation, plugs, and bulbs. If the damage can be easily repaired such as replacing a broken bulb, do not use the item until the repair has been made. If cords and plugs are damaged, discard and replace the decoration.
Show off some damaged cords.

Use wooden or fiberglass ladders when decorating outdoors. Metal ladders conduct electricity; using one could result in severe electric shock. Show off a wooden ladder.

Use plastic clips, not staples, nails or tacks to hang electrical cords. You can find plastic gutter clips at any home improvement store. Staples, nails or tacks can pierce the protective insulation around the wiring in decorations.
Show plastic gutter clips and staples/nails/tacks.

Check lights often. Every so often, check holiday light wires to make sure that they`re not warm to the touch. Overheated wires can spark a fire. Demonstrate feeling a string of lights for heat.

Always unplug lights before changing bulbs, replacing fuses, or making any other repairs. If you need to replace a bulb in a string of Christmas lights, make sure that the wattage rating of the replacement bulb you`re using matches that of the light strand. Using a bulb with too high a wattage can cause the light string to overheat, creating a fire risk. Replace a bulb on a string of lights.