Residential Christmas Light Installation

How to do Outdoor Holiday Decorating the Safe Way

Christmas Decor Reindeer ExteriorResidential Christmas light installation, while labor intensive, makes your home a showpiece during the holiday season and brings joy to you, your loved ones, and your neighbors. Decorating outdoors adds an extra bit of festivity and warmth to your holidays, along with imprinting your style. Whether you go minimalist and adorn your door with a single, gorgeous wreath, or you invest in a roof Santa and dazzling lights in your shrubs and pine trees, your décor will likely get you in the Christmas spirit.

Outdoor decorating can be a fun shared activity for the entire family, but if you decide to do this, there are some safety issues to consider including:

  • Electrical safety—including lights, cords, and outlets
  • Ladder safety—use proper ladders and have a helper
  • Slip and fall—do your decorating when the weather is dry

Hanging Outdoor Wreaths and Garlands

Wreaths and garland are the easiest way to adorn your home and, unless you want them around your second-story windows, are relatively safe and easy to install for the home do-it-yourselfer. Wreaths offer unlimited opportunity for creativity, as you can create your own using pine cones, hot glue, ribbons, or a variety of found or homemade materials. Some white or metallic spray paint to match your exterior might be a nice customization. Your imagination is the limit for wreath making. That said, you can find commercially-made ones that are also distinctive, whether you look at a Michaels store (also good for crafting supplies), or at Pottery Barn or another retailer.

Hanging the wreath is easy and can be done with any of the following:

  • Nail or screw in.
  • Use an adhesive hook (found in most hardware stores).
  • Use an over-door-type hanger (least destructive) if you have room at the top of your door.
  • Magnetic hook (use this if you have a metal door).
  • Wrap a wide ribbon around the wreath and secure it to the top of the door.
  • Suction-cup hooks (for glass doors).

If you have a painted door, you might not mind attaching your outdoor decoration with a nail or screw—especially if you hang seasonal wreaths throughout the year. If you desire a non-destructive hanging method, you need another type of hanger. Over-door hangers are great, provided you have enough gap at the top of your door. If you don’t have enough door clearance, try the ribbon method and use either tacks or duct tape to secure the ribbon to the top of your door. If your door is metal, a magnetic metal hook will do the trick, provided it has a strong enough magnet to support the weight of your wreath.

If your front door is glass, you’re in luck as you can have a semi-invisible hook in the form of a suction-cup. Do find one with a proper weight-load capacity, however. If, by chance, your door is smooth metal, you might also get away with one of these types.

Tip: If you have porch posts or railings on your home, using wide, colored ribbon is a very easy way to embellish your home, as you can make your own array of giant candy canes (or, alternately, decorate with garlands).

Hanging Outdoor Holiday Lights

Outdoor string lights create a romantic, magical look to your home at night and they also provide a nice contrast to the white/blue winter snow as dusk descends on your yard. Whether you line your eaves, porch, or adorn your trees with color, you’ll enliven your home and emotionally benefit from the extra effort you make for the holidays. Installing outdoor holiday lights is one of the more labor intensive holiday decorating projects and requires ladders, tools, and a bit of knowledge of electricity.

Tools Needed:

  • Screwdriver
  • Level
  • Chalk Marker
  • Ladder (freestanding and extensions, if required)
  • Helper (to hold ladder)
  • Outdoor-rated extension cords
  • Lights
  • Gutter or Eaves Hooks (clip-on, nail-on or adhesive type)
  • Gutter or Eaves Hooks (nail-on or adhesive type)
  • Nails (optional)
  • Tape Measure

Holiday Light Bulb Types

There are many lights to choose from for your décor, from color, to white, to icicle-style. Figure out what kind of feel you want to create and purchase the appropriate footage for the area you want to cover. Know that some bulbs run hot and some cool. Generally, the miniature ones run cooler, and the larger, c-7 and c-9 ones burn hotter. The larger ones take 5-10-watt standard bulbs. Make sure your bulbs are UL-rated for outdoor use (not all of them are). Also note that most of the mini-strings all go out if a single bulb goes out. The larger ones continue to work, however, even if one bulb on the line goes out.

LED lights are newcomers to the holiday lighting scene and, while more expensive, have some noteworthy advantage:

  • They run cooler
  • They last longer
  • They use less electricity

How long a string should you buy? Generally, stringing together 50-foot lights gives you more modular flexibility for future decorating. Plus, if one string goes bad, you have less footage to replace.

Run an outdoor extension from a GFCI outlet to power your lights. You most likely will want a switch-managed outlet or an outdoor timer to control your lights. Otherwise, you’ll have to unplug by hand and worry about the exposed plug end.

Before hanging, test your lights by plugging them in to make sure they are fully functional. Replace any bad bulbs before you climb the ladder.

Choose some focal points for decorating. Here are some suggestions:

  • Roof line or along eaves
  • Around windows and door frames
  • Around window boxes or other architectural elements
  • Around shrubs and evergreen trees
  • Along rails and porch railings

Gorilla ladderMeasure your home or the linear area of the tree or architectural element you want to light and write it down. If you like to go to town on your home’s front façade, consider making a small mockup with measurements for future use. Tip: Keep it with your lights for next year.

Make sure you have enough lights for the area and include some extra for slack in the string, as you’ll undoubtedly have some (and might even incorporate a scallop into the effect). Set up your ladder where you want to install the bulbs. For low eaves, and/or small trees, a stepladder should work. Just make sure the ladder is steady and that you have someone hold it. Ladder mishaps are responsible for 43% percent of fatal falls in the U.S. in the last decade and even among workers, 20% of injuries are from ladders. For extra safety, consider a Gorilla multi-positional ladder as they are heavy duty and have optional levelling feet extensions. These are a great investment for any do-it-yourselfer.

Install your clips at the manufacturer-recommended distance along your eaves, shingles or tree. This may be 12 inches or some other width. If nailing, you can measure along as you go with a tape measure or yardstick. You can either hang the string as you go, or hang the clips in one pass, and then do a second pass for the string hanging. This is a lot of ladder adjusting, so, again, be completely sure your ladder is steady and have a helper with you, if possible. Your helper can hold the ladder and/or hold the light strings to make the hanging go faster. Hang your light strings first and then attach the extension cord at the end.

You may be tempted to hang the lights directly from nails or screws, but this is not a good idea due to the electrical current. The plastic clips are a better, safer idea and if you opt to hang them from shingles, the clip-on light holders provide a non-destructive option for hanging.

To recap, here are the quick steps for hanging lights outdoors:

  • Plan your light show and make a sketch
  • Measure the linear lengths and allow extra for some slack
  • Gather your tools and ladder (see above)
  • Test your lights and replace faulty bulbs or lines
  • Hang your light holders, whether they are nail, clip-on or adhesive type
  • Hang your strings of lights
  • Attach your extension
  • Enjoy your holiday display and be the envy of your neighborhood
  • Drink hot chocolate

Easy peasy? Well, not really, especially if it is cold and you are reluctant to climb ladders. Residential Christmas light hanging is, by the way, a job that is well-suited for a handyman or woman. Most people don’t think about it, but generally these pros know automatically what your electrical needs are for outdoor wiring and have the ladders and tools to install them. If you’re busy or just don’t want to tackle the  job yourself, consider getting a free handyman quote. If you don't have outdoor electrical outlets, consider having some installed by an electrician or look into battery-operated decor.

Enjoy your holidays and your private light festival!

Main image courtesy of Max Pixel.

Ladder image courtesy of Gorilla Ladders.

Reindeer decor image courtesy of Lindsay Menas.

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