How to Mount Christmas Decorations on a Roof

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Christmas is a festival of lights, and plenty of people share in the spirit of the season by hanging outdoor Christmas lights. Some are content to adorn trees in the yard, on the front porch, and maybe around some ground-floor windows, but others prefer to go whole hog and put lights on the entire house, even the roof.

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If you're of the latter persuasion, you should keep in mind that there are right ways to place lights and decorations on the roof, and there are wrong ways, and the wrong ways can create dangerous conditions and can damage your roof. Don't forget that it's winter, and winter means snow, hail, and high winds.

Cautions for Rooftop Decorating

If your roof has a steep pitch of more than 45 degrees (more than 1 foot of rise for every foot of horizontal distance), don't even think about installing lights and plastic Santas up there. It's just too dangerous to walk on a steep roof, especially in snowy weather, and it's even more dangerous to put things there that can fall. If the pitch is significantly below this threshold and it's safe for you to walk on the roof, there are some other important cautions to observe:

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  • Don't use staples or nails to attach anything to the roof, especially lights. Both can cause leaks, and staples can puncture wiring and create electrical hazards.
  • Don't put heavy things on the roof. They might fall off in high winds, and they put extra pressure on the roof deck, causing sags that can turn into ice dams.
  • Don't put anything close to the chimney, especially if you use the fireplace in the winter. It's best to keep a 2- to 3-foot buffer between the chimney and lights and flammable decorations (almost all decorations are flammable).

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  • Don't work alone. You need someone else there in case something goes wrong, and a helper can pass supplies to you while you're on the roof, limiting the number of times you have to mount and dismount the ladder.

The Best Ways to Attach Christmas Lights

If you can't affix Christmas lights with nails or staples, how are you supposed to make them stay on the roof? The answer is to use clips designed for this purpose. Shingle clips are designed to fit underneath shingles to hold string lights securely, and ridge clips have tabs that lock under ridge cap shingles to hold lights securely to the roof ridge.

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Make sure you plug the lights into a GFCI receptacle, preferably an outdoor one. Don't just feed the plug through an upstairs window and plug them into a non-GFCI bedroom outlet. Without ground-fault protection, damaged strings of lights could electrify a snowy roof.

Even if you use clips, stringing lights on the roof is a dodgy proposition, and you can protect your roof and save yourself from a potentially serious fall by hanging lights only from the fascia and eaves. You can do this by attaching shingle clips to the edges of the roof shingles. You can drive hooks and nails into wooden fascia, soffits, and corner trim, and you can use gutter hooks to hang lights from the gutters. Be careful not to overload the gutters; they're more fragile than they look.

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How to Install Rooftop Decorations

The safest rooftop decorations are inflatable ones, but these need to be secured to prevent them from blowing away when the wind picks up. An easy way to hold them in place is to use 50-pound sandbags. Even though sandbags are heavy, the weight is distributed evenly enough to prevent damage to the roof.

Another way to hold down your inflatable Santa or nativity scene is to secure it with ropes. Use at least two and secure them to the eaves or soffits on opposite sides of the roof. An even better idea is to secure the inflatable to a piece of plywood, set the plywood flat on the roof, and secure it with sandbags or ropes extending across the roof to the eaves.

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Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker and Family Handyman.