Celebrating the holidays with outdoor Christmas lights is a traditional way to share the joy of the season. The twin challenges are to select wisely and installing safely. These same principles apply to any electrically-lit outdoor Christmas decorations too.

Did Last Year’s Outdoor Christmas Decorations Survive?

Check the light strings and the extension cords. Are the cords frayed, especially near the plugs? Were they properly stored in a loose roll last January, or were they damaged by being tightly coiled?

Test each string indoors to ensure that all the bulbs light. If not, they need to be replaced. Are all the components truly built for “outdoor” use?

Selecting Outdoor Christmas Lights Wisely

The best choices emphasize safety over cost-cutting, since lost wages and medical expenses would far exceed any savings for a shoddy string of outdoor Christmas bulbs. The safety tips include:

  • Check for authentic approval stickers from recognized safety labs: CE (Conformance European), CSA (Canada Standards Association), ETL (from Intertek Testing Services), or UL (Underwriters Laboratories). Learn these four symbols for approved electrical products.
  • Check that each string of lights, and each extension cord, is certified for outdoor use.
  • Use one power outlet and one extension cord for every three strings of lights.
  • Mini-lights and LED outdoor Christmas lights use less energy and are cooler than traditional lights.

Buy a portable ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) if the outdoor plug is not already equipped with one. The USA’s National Electrical Code required them for the outdoor receptacles of new homes since about 1973, but it is better to check and be sure. A licensed electrician can install a permanent GFCI.

The shopping list may include hooks or insulated staples for stringing the lights. Nails or tacks may damage the electrical wires.

Finding Discount Outdoor Christmas Lights

As with any seasonal consumer purchase, the best time to find discount outdoor Christmas lights is the off season. However, even last-minute bargain hunters can expect some success.

To save money despite prime-season purchasing: plan what you want; then divide the list into “needed immediately” versus “postpone”. The “immediate” list may include the GFCI and up to three strings of lights to attach to one outdoor extension cord.

Another trick is to shop around while staying home. Check for sales in the newspaper or through the Internet, and read the flyers delivered through the mail. Online retailers and big box stores are competing for a share of every consumer’s wallet. This includes the cost of outdoor Christmas lights for trees.

Safely Installing Outdoors Christmas Lights

The extension cords and strings of lights have been inspected and worked indoors. Safety continues in the cold, snowy outdoors. Plan the decorations so that people will not trip over extension cords.

If you have to climb, be sure the ladder has a firm footing, is well braced, and stands at the right slope. Keep “three points of contact” on a ladder when climbing.

Do not attach electrical wires to metal objects such as wire fences. No-one would ever attach their outdoors Christmas lights to power lines or a metal flagpole.

Using Outdoor Christmas Lights Wisely

There is little reason to keep the decorations lit during daylight hours. This uses electricity but does not make for much of a show.

Turn off the lights at bedtime. While your neighbors might still be awake, they might not notice if snow or wind cause damage to the lights on your property.

Christmas is a time to celebrate with family, friends and neighbors. With planning, a display of outdoor Christmas lights can enhance the season within your budget.