Hang Exterior Holiday Lights the Right Way!
They're no doubt already popping up around your neighborhood. Those strings of colored lights, waving Santas, herds of reindeer, snowmen and the like can elicit oohs and aahs from even the biggest Ebenezer. Whether you're out to impress the neighbors with some major wattage or are just a novice light-stringer, it's best to be in the know. Too many lights piled onto one circuit, unattended displays and other holiday mishaps can result in a dangerous situation for your home and your family.
According to the American Fire Administration, more than 2,600 people a year are injured in fires during the holiday season. Fortunately, there are some very simple steps you can follow to avoid becoming another statistic.
Before you start
When you drag out your lights this year, inspect them carefully. Are any of the cords fraying? Do the sockets look healthy? As much as you would like to get another year of use out of them, you are going to have to throw them away. If you are in the market to buy new lights, there are hundreds of options out there, but many electricians prefer the kind with smaller bulbs because they generate less heat. Choose a brand that is labeled fire resistant and tested for safety, indicated by a UL or ETL/ITSNA symbol and be sure you buy lights that are appropriate for EXTERIOR use.
Jane Tip: For the best look, stick with lights of the same size and color scheme.
Doing the Math
So, you know the look you are going for, how do you know how many sets of lights to buy? If you plan on lining the roof of your home, measure the length of it from below by running a tape measure from one side of the yard to the other. This will help take into account the extra 30-50 feet for the roof's peak. The numbers you generate will give you a rough estimate of how many feet you will need to buy. Take your totals to the store and match your needs up against the length indicated on the side of the boxes of lights. You may want to buy a mixture of long and short strings, to fill any holes and prevent excess. Don't forget that you will likely a couple of extension cords into the process.; get ones rated for outdoor use.
This may seem obvious, but don't ever cut a string of lights because it's too long!
For trees, you will need about 100 lights per foot for a well-decorated tree with small lights. (You can halve that number if you are using the bigger bulbs.) You can definitely pile on more, but just be sure not to string together more sets of lights than indicated on the box. Be mindful of your circuits, too. This brings us to?
While you may want to wow your neighbors this season, you don't want to overload your circuits. Most homes can take about 2400 watts for all of your appliances. To find out how many watts you are using, multiply the number of bulbs by their wattage. For example, if you have 100 bulbs at 2.5 watts, the total wattage for the string of lights is 250. If you regularly blow fuses, you may not want to go too crazy decking the halls, otherwise there will be plenty of trips to the circuit breaker! The wattage may be in small print, but it should be indicated on the box.
Before you get started, unroll the string of lights and make sure they all work. Replace any broken or non working bulbs, if necessary. Also, stretch out the strings to ensure they aren't twisted or knotted. Remember to look for any frays in the wires.
Hanging lights from the roof involves placing a clip, nail or hook every foot or so and draping the string of lights around it. Test the clips/nails/hooks to see whether or not it will hold the weight of the lights. Whatever you do, do not staple or nail your lights directly to the roof! This could cause holes in the roof as well as cutting and causing the wires to fray, which is dangerous. Also, make sure whatever you hang your lights from is not broken and/or sharp on the off chance they would damage the wiring.
SAFETY TIP!: Ensure that your ladder is tall enough for you to work comfortably. Avoid over-reaching as it throws off your center of gravity. And always work from the ground up rather than hanging off the edge of your roof.
Install the hanging devices to the eave of your roof placing one about every two feet, then go back and hang the lights. Stretch them taut so there is not too much drooping. Once New Year's Day has come, you may want to just leave the hooks in the roof so you will have half the job to do next year.
Let There be (Festive) Light!
Once your lights are up and shining for the neighborhood to see, resist the urge to show them off 24/7. If they aren't on a timer, unplug them once you go to bed, not only for safety, but also for the sake of your electric bill.
After you take them down, be sure to store them carefully. Throwing them into a box will result in a giant ball of tangled lights next year, so take the time to do it right! Some people twist them into a neat ring using their elbow or wind them around a piece of cardboard to avoid knots and kinks. You can also roll them into a garden hose holder for easy storage and retrieval next year. Use a plastic storage bin to keep them dry and dust free throughout the rest of the year.
We hope your holiday lights are the brightest (and safest) in the neighborhood!