With Thanksgiving in the rear view mirror, Christmas songs on the radio, and holiday decorations popping up all around the neighborhood, I suppose it’s time for me to admit that the season is upon us and get with the program. Now, I love decorating indoors, but going out and setting up lights outside is a pain, especially in a colder climate. But I’ve found that the best way to streamline the process is actually pretty simple: plan ahead, and do everything in the right order. How?
The very first step to setting up your holiday lights should be a nice walk around the outside of your house looking for outlets. How many you have and where they are in relation to the places you want to decorate will (or at least, should) dictate how many lights you can use. You should do this before you even think about buying lights, because if all your outlets are really far from the front of your house, you might want to consider opting for Solar Powered Lights. If not, you’re going to need to at least buy a few Outdoor Extension Cords, or maybe even an Outdoor Power Stake – an outlet head attached to a long green extension cord on one end and a ground spike on the other, to help move your plugs closer to where you need them. And if you know that before you go to the store, you’ll save yourself a lot of extra trips later.
Once you know how much juice you’re going to have and how to get it to your lights, you want to make a very specific plan for exactly what you want your Holiday Lights to look like. Get up on a ladder and measure out the length of the eaves, gutters, or overhangs you want to light, and keep a running total of exactly how many feet of lights you’re going to need, and what kinds of lights if you’re going to use more than one type. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t have more than 3 strings of lights (or about 300 lights) connected to a single line, and it’s best if you link lights of the same type (or at least the same brand) for the best results. So plan to keep your Icicle strings separate from the rest of your lights!
And you really do need to make a detailed plan for your project before you head out to buy your Lights. This might seem a little excessive, but having the right number of lights for the distance you need to cover won’t always cut it – you also have to figure out how they’re going to connect both to each other and to the power source before you start hanging. I used to work in a hardware store, and around this time every year people show up looking for a way to connect two female ends on a string of holiday lights they hung in the wrong direction. Unfortunately for them, that’s a part that’s illegal to make and sell in most states, and dangerous even where you can find them. So, unless you want to run the risk of having to pull down all your lights and start over, (or skip on electricity entirely and swap to Solar Lights), I’d take the extra time to map out connections and plug points.
When you’re finally ready to buy your lights, keep in mind that you’re going to need stuff to install them. This is another reason that planning ahead is hugely important; there are different types of clips for every type of light and surface you want to install them on – some for your Gutters or Shingles, and some All In Ones, and you want to make sure you get enough of the right kind, and matching Parts if you need them. They should be spaced close enough not to let your string of lights droop, and try to find a brand that’s weatherproofed to withstand your climate so you’ll be able to reuse the same setup without having to redo the work every year.
At home, test every single string of Lights before you do anything else. Even if all your lights are brand new, it’s no guarantee they’ll all work, and it’s much, much better to find out BEFORE you have all of them strung together and nailed into a wall, with no way of figuring out which one is blow. Then, wait for a dry day, and start in the late morning or early afternoon for maximum light. Press a friend or family member into helping you, and get ready to hang.
Work on one section of your plan at a time, connecting all the Lights that will be hung together into a single line so you don’t end up with any mismatched ends. Have your peon hold the lights in a loose loop while you climb up your (dry, stable) ladder. Attach the Clips to your eaves, shingles, or gutter according to the package instructions (usually a peel-and-stick, clip on, or nail), and then clip the lights into place. This is MUCH easier and safer (and easier to take back down) than trying to nail the wires directly to your house.
Work one section at a time, from the highest point you want to light downward, running your extension cords as discreetly as possible to your various outlets. When the last light is in place, climb down off your ladder, step back, have your peon plug everything in, and watch your house light up! Since you tested the bulbs before they went up, every light should be shining bright… but maybe keep a few spare bulbs on hand, just in case. To save a little money on your energy bill, and a little trouble of having to manage the lights yourself, set them up with an Outdoor Timer, which will turn your lights on and off automatically at dusk and dawn, or after a set number of hours, depending on your preference.
If you’re setting up holiday lights this season, I’d love to see ‘em. What are your favorite type of lights? Do you have a light hanging ritual?