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All you need to know about Christmas lights

Add some festive cheer to your neighbourhood this December with some Christmas lights. Gone are the days of straggly lights that threatened to set the tree on fire. Modern Christmas lights come in a huge range of colours, strands and shapes, indoor and outdoor ratings, solar powered, ropes, nets, stars and more. Whether you are planning on lighting up the Christmas tree, or mounting a flashing extravaganza on your roof, take some time to do a safety check and plan your design before you get stuck in.

Safety tips:

Testing: Before stringing up your lights, untangle them carefully and lay them on a heat resistant surface (e.g. the kitchen counter). Check the cable for signs of fraying, wear or cracking. Discolouration is a sign that the cables have had too much UV exposure and are becoming brittle. The safest option is to throw them away and start again. Plug the string of lights in, and leave them running for 15 minutes to make sure that they don’t overheat or start to smoke. Unplug, and replace any dead bulbs with the spares that come in the packet, and turn the lights back on for another test run.

General Safety: Select a suitable power point (or power points) for the lights. If possible, use more than one power point to spread the voltage load between sockets and avoid overloading. It’s a good idea to use power boards with overload protection. (Note: Surge protection is different from overload protection, it protects the device against power spikes, which is essential for computers but not as important for Christmas lights). Use inside products for inside, and outdoor products for outdoors. With outdoor lights always use an RCD and outdoor extension cords if you are running the power from inside your house out to the garden or deck. Pay attention to all the surfaces that your lights will be touching. Make sure they are not resting on a material that will melt or burn easily. Use ladders sensibly. Place the ladder on flat ground, check the balance before you climb up the ladder and have someone hold it stable at the base for you. Check the instructions on lights to make sure you use them as directed.

Hanging outdoor Christmas lights

Dressing the outside of the house with lights and other accessories adds some excitement to the Christmas season, and there is a huge variety of options to choose from. Outdoor rated products will be clearly labelled on the packaging. Check the type of power source you will need before you buy, and use only heavy duty outdoor extension cables if you are going to connect to the mains. Solar powered lights and decorations are good options for people who don’t want to impact their power bill, or deal with cords and cables.

Measure before you start: Use string and/or measuring tape to work out the actual length of lights needed to decorate your window or tree, and how long an extension cord is needed to span from the power supply to the lights. The length of the string of lights is usually on the packaging.

It’s a good idea to write the length of your lights onto a piece of masking tape and wrap it around the cord near the plug. This will save you from re-measuring next year.

Hanging lights on gutters: Gutter clips are useful, as they help to avoid damaging the house while you are installing and dismantling the lights. These clips can be left on the gutter for a couple of years before needing to be replaced. If your ladder needs to rest against guttering, pack the gutter with some spare wood to avoid it being crushed.

Exterior window trims and walls: Suction cups are the best option to temporarily mount Christmas lights to window trims and walls, as they will not damage paintwork. Plan for roughly thirty centimetre gaps between the suction cups.

Lighting bushes: Weave the lights around and through the bush or use a net style string of lights.

Lighting trees: Spiral the lights up the trunk, and if the tree is large, along the main branches. Be careful when using ladders up against a tree, and always check to see if a branch can hold your weight first.

When planning your lighting, decide on whether the tree should look good from every angle or just from the front. This will impact the metreage of lighting you will need to create the effect you are after.

Use a timer: If you are put off by the hassle of turning decorations on and off manually each night, consider using a timer. Timers can be programmed to turn on and off at times you specify, potentially saving you money in power usage. Choose a timer that is suitable for the combined voltage of the lights on the socket.

Hanging indoor Christmas lights

Plan your indoor decorations with access to power points in mind, and by avoiding any flammable or delicate surfaces that could be damaged by heat from the bulbs. Arrange your lights while they are turned off at the wall.

Suction cup hooks and temporary adhesive hooks are great for hanging strings of lights up without damaging your paintwork or scratching glass. Prepare the surface carefully before mounting a temporary adhesive hook to ensure that the hooks hold the weight of the decoration, and don’t do any damage when you remove them. String, twist ties, and garden ties are all useful for securing lights to curtain rails or balustrades.

Removal and storage

Take care removing and storing Christmas lights to avoid damaging the cables and bulbs. Coil each string separately, securing with twisty ties or wind them around a cord wheel before storing them in separate plastic bags. This will save time untangling them next year, as well as protecting them while they are in storage.