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Before you climb to your roof and start stapling on millions of lights that could outshine the sun, take a moment to consider what you’re taking on.

You don’t want to end up standing in your front yard with hours of work behind you and nothing to show for it. You need to make a plan, prepare for the project and proceed with caution, hopefully with better success than Clark Griswold.

Plan

The first step in any project is to make a plan. Map out where you want your lights to go. Hometips.com suggests using a long tape measure to figure the number of strands you will need. Measure the height of your house and the length along the ground. Also measure the height of any bushes or trees you intend to light and the outline of doors and windows. When buying lights, opt for shorter light strings so it’s easier to replace if one stops working.

Plan to run heavy-duty extension cords from a working 120-volt electrical outlet protected by a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). Ideally, use a switch-controlled outlet, or plug the lights into an automatic timer. Both the receptacle’s circuit and the timer must be rated to handle the combined amperes of all the light strings.

Prepare

Visually inspect all light strings for damage before plugging them in. Broken or missing bulbs should be replaced, and strings with worn or exposed wires should be discarded to avoid a fire hazard. Once a light string is complete, plug it in and check for burned-out bulbs. Unplug the string before replacing bulbs and then retest it. If the string doesn’t work at all, check it for a blown fuse. If after replacing the fuse it blows again, replace the entire string.

Proceed

Your objective is to hang lights as easily and safely as possible without damaging your home in any way.

“If your home’s eaves are low, you may be able to use a stepladder. Otherwise, plan to use an extension ladder,” said hometips.com. “Place it firmly on flat ground and, extending it well above the eaves, lean it against the eaves at an angle that will be comfortable and safe to climb — neither too steep nor too flat. If you must lean the ladder against the gutter, place a short piece of 2-by-4 inside the gutter to reinforce it.”

Using hooks for extension cords and light strings will make it much easier to hang your lights. There are many inexpensive, easy-to-install options available.

“While nails, screws and other metallic fasteners seem an easy answer, they are conductors of electricity, they rust, and they put holes into your structure,” according to wikihow.com. “Space fasteners uniformly with the distance of area between the bulbs on the light strings. Finish this step completely before you start hanging the lights.”

For attaching lights to window trim and similar vertical surfaces, hometips.com suggests using rope light clips or adhesive or nail-on plastic string light clips. Using staples or nails can pierce or wear away the protective insulation, creating an electrical hazard.

When you are ready to hang the lights, start at the power source and follow the fasteners to the end of the project. Hang one string, then plug in the next string, end-to-end.

“Don’t cut corners by plugging all the strings together,” according to wikihow.com. “Don’t connect more than three sets together or you risk overloads and chances for fire.”

As you are hanging the lights, make sure they are secure on the fastener so wind can’t knock them off. After completing the roof line, decorate the other elements of your home.

TIPS

The ideal time to hang Christmas lights is BEFORE the weather gets nasty. Working on ladders and the edge of a roof can be extra dangerous in bad weather. If you don’t want to hang your lights too early you can still get a lot of the prep work done, such as installing hangars and extension cords.

Keys to successful lighting from the DIY Network:

· Map out your scheme carefully before installation.

· Use only light strings and extension cords approved for outdoor use.

· Strings are designed to plug into each other, but never use more than three strings on any one run.

· Plug light strings into same-length strings. Don’t mix and match strings of different lengths — the wires are rated for different amperages.

· Measure the distance carefully and write everything down so you’ll only have to make one trip to the store.

· If you need a measurement for spiraling up a post or tree trunk, wrap a string around it, then lay the string flat to measure the length you’ll need.

WARNINGS

· Your source of power should come from a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet which will shut the circuit down if there is overcurrent. If you don’t have a GFCI outlet, a qualified electrician can permanently install one outdoors, or you can buy a portable outdoor unit from your local home store.

· When using extension cords, make sure they are rated for outdoor use and keep the connections above ground, snow and water. Try to avoid high-traffic areas. Tape cords across walkways, and use the correct length needed to travel to your lights.

· Never use indoor Christmas lights outdoors. Always choose waterproof lights with a tag marked underwriters lab (UL). This means the lights meet national industry standards with the American National Standards Institute.

· Never use an indoor timer outside.

ASK AN EXPERT

If the task of hanging Christmas lights seems daunting and is turning you into a grinch, don’t be afraid to call an expert for help. Frank Hurt, owner of Lite It Up, knows the importance of having the proper equipment and assistance.

“This will be my second season of installing Trimlight Select, Permanent Holiday Lighting,” Hurt said. With Trimlight Select, you only have to install once, with a lifetime warranty.”

Hurt said it’s time to call a professional if you have to borrow anything or run “real quick” to the hardware store.

“One trip inevitably leads to several,” he said. “Don’t chance it. Don’t stress it. Have a professional do it for you.”

The way you light up your house is entirely up to you. If you plan to ask a professional for help you should do so before their calendars fill up. If you want to brave hanging your own lights, be smart and be safe. Christmas lights can bring cheer to those who get to enjoy the final product, so let your lights shine. “We’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas!”