Remember Clark Griswold installing his colorful house decorations in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”? Clark made a number of mistakes (he attached every single light line with staples), all for comedic effect. But in real life, those mistakes are not funny.
There are documented facts that dozens of people suffer injuries each year from falling off ladders while putting up or taking down holiday decorations. While most injuries are minor, some are serious and some are even fatal. Great height, shaky extension ladders and uncertain weather conditions make for dangerous situations.
Dave Stark is production manager for Las Vegas Handyman, a company that provides handyman services for residential and small commercial companies including painting, electrical, plumbing, and even hanging Christmas lights.
“Most people still enjoy putting up their own holiday lights,” he said. “There are a number of companies that can do this for you, but hanging and stringing lights around the house is almost like a family tradition. You just can’t have someone else do it for you.”
However, Stark also knows that most homeowners are not accustomed to going up and down a ladder.
“Ladder injuries are the most common because the person either climbs too fast and misses a step or misjudges where he or she is,” he said. “It’s one thing to climb a ladder one time and take care of something.
“But stringing lights across a roof requires going up and down several times and that makes a person even more prone to an accident. Pay attention. Otherwise, it’s very easy to slip and fall.”
Stark advises that a ladder be on solid footing so it doesn’t move. There are many different ladders and each one works a little differently. He suggests having a friend at the bottom holding the ladder in place or just watching to make sure everything is safe. And never place the ladder in or near any water.
“Here’s another rule I recommend,” he said. “When you’re on a ladder, always have three points of contact. By that, I mean having both feet and one hand on the ladder or both hands and one foot on the ladder.
“Trying to climb a ladder and using both hands to carry tools at the same time is a good way to fall. Carry the tools in your pocket or belt or have them in a bag that you can pull from the ground. Climbing a ladder with a bunch of tools is a disaster waiting to happen.”
According to Stark, the most important part of installing lights is having a plan.
“Resist the urge to wing it,” he said. “Draw up a plan and once you know what you’re aiming for, then you’ll know how to get there. It’s pretty simple. First, do this and then do that. One step followed by another. The problem is that most people are in a hurry and jump from one part of their plan to another.”
Prepare by measuring any straight line you want to adorn with lights as this will help decide how many strands of lights are needed. Measure the distance to your power source and always use UL approved extension cords specific for outdoor use along with lights rated for indoor/outdoor use. Stark recommends LED lights that will save money on energy costs and not overheat.
“When it comes time to start laying out the lights, begin with bushes, then trees, any windows, the doors and finally the roofline,” he suggested. “Most lights and decorations being sold today are already designed with hooks or light clips that adhere to most of the homes in Las Vegas. But many people still pound nails directly into stucco. Nail holes in stucco is not too smart because then you have the potential for that nail hole to leak later on when it rains. I don’t recommend using nails.”
Most roofs in Southern Nevada are ceramic tile and can be slick and dangerous. At the same time, they can have a high pitch and be quite steep, so go slow and be sure of your footing.
Then there are the large inflatable characters such as Rudolph with his red nose or Frosty the Snowman.
“These are basically big balloons so the important thing here is making sure each character is properly secured,” said Stark. “This is a time of year when we get many windy days so proper tie-down is vital. And when tying down these characters or installing lights, always do it during the middle of the day when there is the most light.”