The holiday season wouldn't be complete without Christmas lights, but the twinkling fixtures can be a fire hazard if not attended to properly.

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Whether they're displayed in your front yard or wrapped around your tree, Christmas lights make the holiday season extra bright. However, the stunning decorations don't come without their safety risks. According to the National Fire Protection Association, fire departments in the United States responded to an average of 160 home fires every holiday season from 2014 to 2018—lighting equipment and electrical distribution accounted for 45 percent of those blazes. No matter where on your property Christmas lights are displayed, it's important to be vigilant when it comes to fire safety around the holidays. We talked to the experts so you know exactly how to attend to your lights this year. 

Christmas tree in living room behind window
Credit: Tom Merton / Getty Images

Turn them off before bed and when you leave the house. 

If Christmas lights are left on for too long, they can get hot and become a fire hazard. For this reason, Sharon Cooksey, fire safety educator at Kidde, says to turn your lights off when you go to sleep or leave your home. She also recommends purchasing a timer that will turn the lights off automatically in case you forget. "The combination of the power requirements and heat from lights and the potential flammability of a tree cause us to urge caution with the use of lights," she says. 

The type you buy matters. 

Beyond turning your lights off when you sleep or leave the house, there are other steps you can take to ensure you're practicing fire safety. Cooksey recommends only purchasing lights that are approved by a recognized testing laboratory. Look for lights labeled with UL, this means the product has been tested by Underwriters Laboratories for fire and electrical safety. After ensuring the lights are lab tested, make sure they're labeled according to what you'll be using them for—indoor lights must be rated for indoor use and should not be hung outside. Cooksey also suggests purchasing LED iterations, which emit less heat than incandescent ones. Not only do they pose less of a fire hazard, but LED lights are also more energy-efficient than other alternatives. 

Be diligent when hanging them. 

Prior to hanging your lights, be sure to read the box completely. "Some lights or wiring may overheat and catch on fire if misused or overloaded—or if people don't follow the manufacturer's instructions," says Michael McLeieer, fire safety expert and president of ESCAPE Inc. The instructions will indicate how many light strings can be combined, but as a general rule, fire safety experts recommend plugging in no more than three light strings at a time. McLeieer also recommends checking the bulbs and wiring to make sure they are free of breaks or cracks before installation. You should also be mindful of electrical sockets. "Overloading outlets and extension cords can cause the outlets to overheat and may cause a fire," Cooksey explains.

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