Christmas is the time of year when some homeowners transform themselves into Clark W. Griswold, the fictional character in the hit movie "National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation" who was obsessed with putting up Christmas lights. In the movie, Griswold slides off and staples himself to the roof, falls off the ladder and nearly electrocutes himself firing up the lights.

These types of accidents are also common every Christmas season for those hanging up lights in real life.

The main reason homeowners have accidents is because they have no business climbing on ladders or roofs (due to age, ability or experience). Falls are the No. 1 hazard for construction workers and I suspect they are the number one cause for most homeowners’ hospital visits during the Christmas holidays.

If you don’t understand electricity, the type of electrical cords required or the proper lights needed, don’t do it. Using the incorrect cords, lights and installation methods could create a fire. Even worse, they could create an electrical shock if they get wet in the rain. Always follow proper grounding requirements, and never side-step an electrical safety feature just to make the lights work.

Let’s say you have all the tools and right parts — both physically and electrically — to install lights. If you plug in your Christmas lights and they don’t work, check the following:


Most exterior electrical receptacles these days are ground faults or linked to ground-fault circuits. After you plug the lights in, if they do not work or they stop working, check your ground-fault receptacle to see if it has tripped. If so, find out why it has tripped. Be very careful in making sure that cords have not been exposed to metal or water.
Many new homes have arc-fault breakers, which will trip if a spark is created when something is turned on. A bulb that is not completely screwed in or a spark from a small, electrical motor in a rotating display could trip the arc-fault breaker. If your lights don’t work, check the breaker box.
Another area to look at is whether the cord has been cut by a staple or missing bulbs that can break the circuit.
A lot of times, lights that have been used for multiple years outside will develop dry rot cracks in the wiring. At that point, the only place these lights need to go is in the trash can.
It is imperative to make sure hot bulbs stay off and away from flammable items to prevent a fire.

If you have any questions about the safety of a breaker or receptacle, contact a licensed electrician.

Technology has come to the rescue of most homeowners who can’t or shouldn’t climb ladders by way of star and sparkling Christmas lights, which illuminate from the ground. The homeowner simply plops the light in the ground, points it to their house and plugs it in. The next thing you see are beautiful lights dancing on the walls of your house. In less than 30 minutes you can Griswold your entire house.

Nothing is more enjoyable than Christmas in your home, and lights can add so much joy. But Christmas in the hospital, or worse, can be a bah humbug. Stay off the ladder and on the ground if you don’t feel safe.

Don Magruder is the CEO of Ro-Mac Lumber & Supply Inc. He is also the host of the Around the House radio show heard every Monday at noon on My790AM WLBE in Leesburg.