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Safety first and always

Christmas lights make the holiday season bright. We decorate our trees, homes and even cars with them.

These pretty decorations don't come without risk though. Falls, electrocution and shorting are real possibilities. With proper preparation and safe practices, you can avoid those dangerous situations while decorating.

Here are the safety tips you need to know.

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Beware broken bulbs

A missing or broken bulb can lead to shocks, fires or nasty cuts.  

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How to fix busted string lights

Here's your full guide to fixing Christmas lights, including fixing bulbs and changing out fuses.

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Change out old lights

Replace any missing or broken bulbs before you string up your home or tree. Most lights come with replacement bulbs, but you can also buy them at your local home improvement store.

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Use the right ladder

If you decorate your home's exterior, you know you need a ladder to reach those high-up spots.

The type of ladder you use matters. Metal ladders conduct electricity, which can lead to electrical shocks.

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Stick with wood

The Electrical Safety Foundation International recommends using a wooden or fiberglass ladder when hanging lights to avoid electrical shocks.  

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Indoor vs outdoor lights

It's probably a no-brainer to use lights that are labeled as indoors for your indoor lights and ones labeled outdoors for your outdoor lights, but there's more to it.

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Look for weatherproof lights

Check to make sure your lights are labeled as waterproof if you live in a wet area.

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Look for the UL seal

No matter the climate where you live, look for the UL seal.

That seal means that the lights meet the national industry standards of the American National Standards Institute.

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Use the right cord

Always use an extension cord that is rated for outdoor use. Indoor-use extension cords aren't meant to be used in cold or wet environments.

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Keep 'em dry

Don't let your cords sit on the ground, like in this photo. Make sure that the junction where your light cord and your extension cord meet stay out of puddles, damp soil, snow or ice.

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Hoist them up

You can buy an inexpensive cord protector -- like the Twist and Seal Heavy Duty Cord Protector or the Extension Cord Safety Seal -- to keep your cords dry or plan your light display so that connections are in the air instead of on the ground.

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Elevate the light

Keep your light strands off the ground, too. If you want to make a cool runway effect down your walkway, use light stakes like these by Minetom or these by HomeAccents. You just stick them in the ground and the lights clip to the top of the stake.

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Keep holiday light plugs off the ground

You can also make a simple cord protector using a plastic container to keep it off the ground. Just cut a notch in the edge of each side and lay the cord along the notches.

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Prevent tripping hazards

Use anchoring pins or ground staples to secure extension cords to the ground on either side of a walkway to prevent tripping hazards. 

Simply thread the cord through the middle and push the ends of the pin or staple into the dirt. If you have some wire hangers, a pair of pliers and wire cutters lying around, you can make your own staples in a pinch. Just cut 8 inches (20 centimeters) of wire and bend it into a U-shape.

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Don't make your lights a year-long attraction

Sure, they're pretty, but don't leave your lights up for too long. Many lights, including smart lights, aren't meant for long-term use. Be sure to check the light's box for information on just how long you can safely leave your lights up.

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Don't overload your outlet

If your lights look like this photo, then you're doing it wrong.

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Keep it to 3 strands

The Electrical Safety Foundation International recommends connecting no more than three strings of incandescent lights together. If you're using LEDs, most UL-labeled lights will tell you on the package how many strings of lights you can safely string together.

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Don't put cords through doors and windows

Don't run your extension cords through window or door cracks. The cord could become pinched, which can ruin the insulation around the wires and lead to a nasty shock.

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Plug 'em in safely

Only plug your lights into a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet. These outlets will shut the circuit down if there is too much current flowing through, preventing fires.

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Use a GFCI outlet

If your outlet is a GFCI, it will have a reset and test button in the center. If you don't have one, you can purchase a portable GFCI outlet from your home-improvement store. You could try this waterproof in-line GFCI or this portable GFCI.

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Be careful decorating living creatures

Never string up a human or animal with the lights that you plug in, even if it's just for a photo -- they could get an electric shock or burns if the lights are too hot.

Most places that sell Christmas lights also sell strands of battery-powered lights. These don't get hot and won't potentially electrocute the wearer. Plus, they come in fun shapes. We've seen strands shaped like snowflakes, candy canes and gumdrops.

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Light your vehicle right

When decorating your vehicle for Christmas parades, make sure to use a power inverter to produce enough power for lights that have a voltage more than 12V. 

Most Christmas lights are 110V AC (alternating-current) and your vehicle can typically only power 12V DC (direct current). The Potek 2000W Power Inverter Three or the Ampeak 1000W Power Inverter are good choices.

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Car safety

Also, be sure to firmly secure the lights to your vehicle so that they don't drag on the ground and shatter. 

Strong magnets that you can buy from craft stores work well. Just be sure not to drag the magnet across your car's finish when pulling it off. Always pull up to avoid scratches.

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Keep your vehicle dry

Be sure to only use your car holiday lights when it's dry outside. 110V AC lights can give you a deadly shock if they get wet.

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