Tips on Hanging Your Outdoor Christmas Lights
Before we get started on the how-to portion of this article, we need to say a thing or two about having your Christmas lights hung by a professional light-hanging company. People who hang Christmas lights professionally are a great resource for homeowners. They have all the gear necessary for doing a safe and thorough job. Many of them are valued Christmas Designers customers and we can’t urge you strongly enough to use a professional service when it comes to putting up the lights outside your house.
That said, a professional light-hanging crew may not be in your budget. Or, as is often the case with dedicated Christmas enthusiasts, you may have no intention of letting anybody who isn’t you anywhere near your Christmas lights display. It’s your vision and you want it done right. Whichever of those describes you, we’ve put together some tips on how to achieve a neighbor-impressing outdoor Christmas light display.
#1. Start with a focus on safety.
When hanging lights on a house, you’ll be dealing with two potentially dangerous things—height and electricity. So, the first two things to think about are, 1) the source of your electricity, and 2) how you’re going to reach high enough to hang your lights.
Use a safe electrical outlet.
You should be plugging your lights into a covered, outdoor outlet that has a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet. Odds are you have something similar near water sources in your kitchen or bathroom. If something happens to make the electricity in your Christmas lights surge, the GFCI will cut the power coming from the outlet.
Use a safe ladder.
Your ladder doesn’t need to be fancy but it needs to be strong. A sturdy extension ladder that leans securely against your house is the preferred way to go. A standard step ladder can work, as long as it’s tall enough, strong enough, and your ground is level enough for the ladder to stand securely.
Now that you’ve got the right type of outlet and a reliable ladder, let’s move on to the safety of the lights themselves:
Use lights that are made for outside.
Look on the box when you buy your lights. Make sure it says that the lights inside are cleared for use outdoors. The same goes for any extension cords you’ll be using. Also, any piece of electrical gear involved in your Christmas lights display should have a tag saying it has been UL approved (meaning that it has met standards set by a widely-respected testing firm called Underwriters Laboratories).
Use light clips made for outdoors.
Forget about nails, screws, staples, teacup hooks, clothespins and whatever other improvised hanging technology you might have in mind. Light clips are the way to go. Check your home to see just what you will be attaching lights to (gutters, shingles, roofline) and be sure to get enough clips for each type of surface (hint: there are multi-surface clips available). You’ll need one clip per bulb. Not only will they help give your display a sharp, uniform look, light clips don’t run the risk of puncturing or tearing wires.
And while we’re on the subject of wires, be sure to check your light strings and extension cords for damage, especially if they aren’t new. Fraying and tears in the outer sheathing aren’t good, since that means moisture has a chance of getting at the wires beneath.
#2. Choose the type of light you’d want.
We’ve already mentioned the safety aspect of lights, but there are still other considerations that go into the choice. For instance:
Looking for that traditional Christmas glow?
The classic C7 or C9 incandescent Christmas light bulb is still a big favorite of Christmas enthusiasts. You can get them with a color coating of transparent paint or with a ceramic finish.
Looking for vivid, contemporary color?
LED lights are great for people who want vibrant, vivid color in their displays. They’re exceptionally bright while also being very energy efficient. And if you want to switch over to LEDs without purchasing entirely new socket strings, you can get LED bulbs that fit traditional C7 and C9 sockets.
Another big question is your choice of colors. That is completely up to you and your family. There’s no way we’re going to wade into that decision!
#3. Have a plan.
Michelangelo didn’t climb up the scaffolding in the Sistine Chapel without first developing a plan for what he was going to paint once he got up there. The same thing goes for your Christmas lights display. Don’t carry a single light string up your ladder until you have an idea of what your finished display should look like.
Measure to know how many lights you’ll need.
Just as it’s best to measure carefully before cutting wood, it’s important to measure before you even go out to buy your lights. You don’t want to find yourself standing on your ladder, holding your last 3 feet of lights, while looking at 20 or 30 feet of unlit house. Measure in every direction you’re planning for lights to go and then decide how many feet of light strings your design is going to require. How many lights you want per string may vary, depending on the contours of your various house sections.
Another factor in knowing how many lights you’ll need is understanding just what kind of effect you want to achieve. Think about the decorating for the very first Christmas. The Star of Bethlehem was very strategically placed. Right? You should do the same thing with your lights.
Where do you want people to look? Where do you want most of the attention focused? How do you want your lights to flow? Sure, there are people who get a lot of attention with massive displays that have something flashing on every inch of their front yard, but that’s not what we’re trying to help you do. We want to help you enhance the beauty of your home at the holidays with a display people will find a joy to behold, not an assault on the senses.
Some thoughts on focal points
What’s the outstanding feature of your home’s exterior? A dramatic roofline? An eye-catching entryway? Wherever the eye seems to go to first when you look at your house is an excellent place to begin. Think about what you want that spot to look like and then make sure all of your other lights work together to complement that focal point.
Sometimes, simpler is the way to go.
Just in case all of this design planning sounds a little overwhelming, don’t forget that there’s nothing wrong with a few simple, tasteful, straightly hung light strings outlining your home. The idea of decorating for the holidays is to celebrate YOUR way. If a lot of planning and design isn’t for you, it doesn’t have to be!