|Remember the movie "Christmas Vacation"? Clarke Griswold, the man of the house, used more Christmas lights and outdoor ornaments than one can usually find in a hardware store, much to the dismay of his neighbors. This season, before going all out with your outdoor seasonal decor, consider these tips to keep things festive, safe, and tasteful.
Before you begin putting up the lights, make sure that they're all in good working order. Check for burned out or missing bulbs, frayed cords, and unsafe plugs or sockets. Also check your outdoor electrical outlets, and, if you're planning on hanging lights higher than your reach, inspect your ladder as well.
Never climb up on fences, railings, or trees while hanging your lights. Always use a ladder, step-ladder, and/or a hanging rod, available at hardware stores.
Most outdoor lights have three-pronged plugs. Never use any lights that have had the grounding prong removed, and never try to force a three-pronged plug into a two-socket connection.
As you work, cover each connection with electrical tape to prevent short-circuiting. When adding bulbs to your string of lights, dab a bit of petroleum jelly onto the socket end to prevent corrosion and make removal of the bulbs easier.
It is very important to check the wattage of your lights against the available wattage of the outlet. If you have too many lights or use too many watts, you'll cause a blown fuse or worse. For best and safest results, only use up to 80% of the available wattage.
When hanging your lights, make sure that they are well away from any power lines and always use lights that are designed for outdoor use. Make sure that your lights are turned off if you're going to be away from home.
General Tips to Make Your Job Easier
Measure the areas where you'll be hanging lights to the best of your ability. This way you'll know exactly how many strings of lights you'll need. Then check out how many lights you've already got, and plan on how many you'll need to purchase. While you're getting the extra lights, pick up a box of replacement bulbs as well to save yourself a trip if you end up needing them.
When choosing the lights for your outdoor display, consider those that come with a built-in timer, or pick up a stand-alone timer for your lights. This will eliminate having to remember to turn the lights on and off every evening, and will save electricity. Plastic hooks that attach to your doorframe, eaves trough, or elsewhere on your home will also make hanging the lights much easier. Avoid stapling or nailing these in place, however.
Also keep in mind that once the season is over, you'll need an organized method of storing your lights. Save the cardboard inserts to re-wrap the lights on, and invest in an appropriately sized, sturdy container for storage until next year.
Make sure you keep the weather in mind. It's always easiest to hang your outdoor lights when it's not snowing or bitterly cold. Hang them several weeks in advance, and when it's time to start lighting them you'll be one step ahead of the game.
To Use Color or Not to Use Color, That is the Question
Christmas lights come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Before you run to the hardware store and buy up every available type of light in every imaginable hue, consider using a single color palette with one main shade and another for accents. Two or three complementary colors are all you really need for a dazzling display, and some of the prettiest houses are adorned solely with simple white lights. If you can't resist the appeal of bright and bold colors, consider changing your colors every year. Go with traditional red and green this year, and then switch to purple and blue for the next holiday season.
When using white lights, it's best to use complementary colors in different sections of your yard or entryway. White lights tend to draw the eye, making other colors less noticeable. For example, outline your doorway and railings in white, and then use red and green for your trees and fences. Focus on highlighting one or two areas, and then add accents elsewhere.
Consider Your Neighbors
Not only can you purchase lights in many shapes and colors, but you can also get lights that blink on and off in various patterns, and even lights that play music. Before you go overboard with a display that will attack each and every one of the senses, consider those that live close to you.
Musical lights may seem like a good idea at the time, but if the Christmas carols being emitted from your decor are annoying to your neighbors, you'll have a lot of explaining to do. Likewise, motion lights can look pretty and inviting, but they are also distracting if someone next door or across the street keeps seeing them out of the corner of their eye while trying to work in their home office.
If you really must use moving or singing lights, set them up so they only make music or blink at certain times and for no longer than 20-30 minutes at a time. You'll get the best of both worlds – a festive, action-packed display for yourself, and neighbors who know when to expect a bit of music or dancing lights.
A Few Extra Tips
Adding spotlights to your outdoor lighting display is a perfect way to add a splash of color in one specific area. Make sure that the bulbs and the holder are made specifically for outdoor use, and that you're not pointing them directly into a window or doorway.
Miniature lights are more economical then standard sized lights, as they use less energy and give off less heat. You can combine mini lights with regular lights for an interesting effect.
Finally, remember that trees and bushes are living things, and will have fragile branches in the cold weather. Decorate with a gentle hand to avoid causing permanent damage.