Install the right holiday lights for your needs
There's nothing quite like artificial colored lights to illuminate the holidays in and around your home. But while traditional string, strip, rope and other lights can brighten your property, they can also raise your electric bill and create hazards if improperly installed. That's why it's smart to take stock of the lights you'll need this November and December, plan carefully how you'd like to show them off, and prioritize safety, the experts say.
"Ever since our ancient ancestors lit that torch for the first time, we've been drawn to the spectacle of light. And that's especially true around the holiday season," says Alisha Kesler, product development manager for Jasco, an Oklahoma City-based consumer electronics company. "Holiday lights are a great way to show off your family's personality, add flair to your home's look and provide curb appeal."
Christien Methot, a professional lighting designer in New York City, agrees that the right holiday lighting products and strategies can make a big difference.
"But much of the seasonal lighting products that become available around the holidays often sell out quickly and are priced higher toward the end of the year, which is why it's best to plan and purchase as early if you can," says Methot.
If you haven't made the transition from filament-filled incandescent bulbs to LED lights, this is the year to make that jump.
"Homeowners who make this switch can save up to 80% more on electricity usage and enjoy up to 20 times the life span," notes Mark Dawson, chief operating officer at Mister Sparky, an electrician service headquartered in Columbia, Maryland.
According to Fixr.com, incandescent holiday string lights cost only about 66% of what comparable LED string lights are priced at. Incandescents also offer more lights per string, are usually brighter and offer truer colors, and are easier to replace if one or more bulbs are broken. But LED lights can last for 50,000 hours on average, use less energy (and are thus better for the environment) and are safer because they generate much less heat, which can start a fire.
"LEDs also offer a reduced risk of tripping your circuit breaker, an issue that can be costly to fix if the circuit breaker switch breaks," Dawson explains.
For best results, map out and measure where you'd like to hang your lights, Kesler says.
"Do this before you go shopping for your lights to know how many strings, extension cords and surge protectors you'll need," adds Kesler.
When it comes to light placement, besides the Christmas tree, many homeowners increasingly like to decorate their exterior with string lights. Methot recommends outlining the roofline of your home and tracing the perimeter of your windows on the inside.
"Animated icicle string lights are fantastic inside or out, and placing a single flickering artificial candlelight in each window provides a classic and festive look," says Methot, who adds that an increasing array of LED fixtures that resemble candles and candlesticks are available today.
Before hanging holiday lights, give careful thought to how you plan to affix them.
"Gutter clips, 3M Command strips, and zip ties work great," Methot says. "If you plan to use a staple gun, be extremely careful not to pierce the cable."
Before expending the effort and time to install and plugging in any lights or illuminated decorations, test them to ensure they work.
"If you switch your decorations on and your overhead lights dim, that's a sign of impending electrical overload, in which case you should try different outlets assigned to different circuits or replace your lights with more energy-efficient ones," recommends Kesler.
Avoid any trip hazards like loose cords, and think twice before climbing a ladder to tall heights, particularly if there's ice or snow around; instead, hire someone for the job to reduce your risk of slips, falls and other injuries.
When it's time to take down your lights after the season, practice patience and care.
"Carefully unplug and detach the lights section by section without yanking on any cables to avoid damage," Methot advises. "Corral each strand in a small circular bundle you can make hand-over-hand, and tie the ends with a small zip tie -- this prevents them from getting tangled. Lastly, store them in a sturdy container that is well labeled and covered to keep moisture and pests out."