“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” is more than a classic holiday movie — it’s a guide for how not to care for your home.
So while we winced watching Clark Griswold face home disaster after disaster, we also couldn't resist turning his experience into a set of homeownership tips. (We're all about education here at House Manager, after all.)
Here are just a handful of practical lessons from the movie that all homeowners can use; we'd share them with Clark if we could!
1. Electrical Common Sense 101
Though we admire Clark’s holiday spirit, having the most festive house on the block shouldn’t overtake basic electrical safety.
Powering 25,000 bulbs with one circuit as he did, with a hopelessly overcrowded outlet, may not cause a neighborhood-wide power outage — but it’s sure to overload a circuit breaker, and is a huge risk for shock or fire.
Whether you’re putting up lights or setting up a home theater, only plug in what your home circuits can handle. As a rule of thumb, you should stay below 80% of any circuit’s capacity. The Spruce shows how to calculate electrical load when installing Christmas lights and other appliances.
And a note about Clark's light choice: Sadly, in 1989 he wouldn't have had good LED Christmas lights, which are safer and more energy-efficient than his incandescent bulbs. Thankfully, we do today.
2. Treat Your Roof With Care
Another no-no from Clark’s Christmas light adventure: Hanging them with a staple gun.
This can easily damage a roof and gutters and even cause expensive leaks — an issue anywhere, but especially in his cold, snowy Chicago. (There’s also the likelihood of falling off the roof, stapling accidents, and damaging the lights themselves, all of which happened to our poor hero.)
You’re better off buying a set of Christmas light clips online or at your local hardware store. Many reliable bulk packs go for 20 bucks or less.
3. Keep Your Christmas Tree Safe
Uncle Lewis standing in front of a burnt-down tree smoking a cigar is one of the movie’s classic scenes — but the reality of tree fires is no laughing matter.
The National Fire Protection Association estimated 160 Christmas tree home fires each year between 2013-17, causing $10 million in direct property damage. And those were just the ones reported to fire departments.
While not smoking around the tree seems like a no-brainer safety tip, know that any nearby source of heat or electricity poses a fire risk — even a TV.
So always keep your tree at a safe distance from other appliances, give it plenty of water so it doesn't get dry, and unplug any tree lights at night.
(Oh, and keep any electrical cords out of the reach of pets. Fluffy, the Griswolds’ cat, learned that the hard way.)
4. Know How to Move Around the Attic
Compared to Clark's other calamities, getting locked in the attic must have felt like a relief — he even found time to watch old home movies!
But whether you use attics extensively or rarely, they bring their own pitfalls. In Clark’s case, it was an actual fall through the ceiling drywall. (Thank goodness for the high bunk bed in the room below).
The lesson: Make sure your attic is fully walkable before moving around up there. That means having sturdy enough joists, and ideally full floorboards if you plan to use it for a full room or storage. Look out for and remove potential tripping hazards, as well.
5. Keep Tabs on Your Home Policy
We never see how Clark and Ellen clean up and pay for the (likely) thousands of dollars in wreckage — watching them call their insurance company is not an exciting sequel, after all.
But “Christmas Vacation” is a helpful reminder for homeowners to fully understand what their home policies do and don’t cover.
For example: the Griswolds’ electrical and fire damage would be covered by most home policies.
Damage by surprise SWAT team raids or squirrels? Unlikely.
Whether you’re a new or old homeowner, take time at least once a year to review your policy, especially if you’re planning a major change to your property.
Smarter maintenance may not have prevented all of the Griwsolds' home mayhem. Crazy things happen. Relatives are unpredictable. But some common-sense care could have made the their holiday a bit less destructive — and definitely less stressful.
We wish you a happy and healthy holiday season — may the only surprises in your home be some great new presents!