Hang holiday lights like a pro in two hours or less with these expert step-by-step tips for planning, choosing, and hanging Christmas and holiday lights.
The best time for hanging Christmas and outdoor holiday lights is before your weather turns wet and cold. Not only is it easier and more comfortable to work outdoors in mild weather, but it is also safer. Climbing ladders and working along the eaves of a roof can be a dangerous challenge in bad weather.
Even if you don’t actually hang your light strings well ahead of the season, you can get much of the preparation done, such as running extension cords, installing hooks and hangers, and so forth.
It’s also smart to check your Christmas lights before it’s time to hang them. Pull them out of storage and check them to make sure they’re functional. This way you will have plenty of time to make repairs and a shopping list for replacements and other supplies. Most home centers and other retailers begin stocking Christmas lights and supplies well before Halloween, so taking care of your shopping early is easy.
Map out where your lights will go and make sure you have enough working lights for that area. Use a long tape measure to figure the number of strands you will need. Be sure to take into account the eaves, windows, doors, shrubs, trees, and the like. Before hanging any lights, plug them in to make sure they work.
When buying lights, opt for shorter rather than longer light strings. That way, if a string stops working, you can replace it more easily and affordably. Light strings that have a male plug at one end and a female plug at the other end are best for connecting together from end to end.
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Outlining your eaves and windows and festooning your trees and shrubbery with decorative lights is a sure way to enliven your home for the holidays. But hanging outdoor holiday lights can be a less than cheerful experience, particularly when you’re faced with a teetering ladder and tangles of light strings that don’t work.
Here’s how to make the job go as smooth as a warm eggnog:
During the holiday season, you’ll discover many different types of decorative lights at home improvement centers, from conventional mini-lights and icicle lights to mesh-style light strings made for wrapping tree trunks.
You can choose clear, white, or colored lights that stay solidly lit, blink, or chase. The right style for your home will depend upon the look you want to create and your budget (not to mention the energy requirements for the lights), so be sure to take your time when shopping.
Lights designated “C-7” and ”C-9” have 5- or 10-watt bulbs similar to those used in conventional nightlights.
“Mini-lights,” as the name implies, utilize miniature bulbs; they are, by far, the most popular today because they are inexpensive to buy and to power, thanks to their cool-burning 1.5- or 2.5-volt bulbs. The larger C-9s and C-7s become very hot and consume considerably more energy than the same number of mini-lights.
On the other hand, C-9 and C-7 light sets are heavier-duty than mini-lights and are more reliable. If one bulb is broken, missing, or twisted in a mini-light string, all or part of the remaining string won’t work. This isn’t the case with the larger bulb sets; they continue to operate.
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The most convenient light strings have a male plug at one end and a female receptacle at the other—you can plug them together from end to end, which makes them easier to route. In the case of mini-lights, short, 50-light strings are often a better bet than longer 100-, 150-, or 200-light strings because you can easily unplug and replace a defective string. Regardless of the type you buy, choose lights that are UL-approved for outdoor use.
Here’s how to get started:
1Locate an electrical receptacle. Plan to run heavy-duty extension cords from a working 120-volt electrical outlet protected by a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). Ideally, use a switch-controlled outlet, or plug the lights into an automatic timer. Both the receptacle’s circuit and the timer must be rated to handle the combined amperes of all the light strings. Do not use an indoor timer outdoors.
2Measure the lengths. Using a long measuring tape (ideally 25 feet or longer), measure the length of your house along the ground. Also measure its height and the height of any bushes or trees you intend to light. Then measure the lengths of the light strings you will need to outline doors or windows. Figure the number of 50-foot light strings it will take for all of these measurements.
3Test the lights. Before you plug them in, visually inspect the light strings, looking for broken or missing bulbs and worn or defective wiring. If you discover faulty wires, replace the string entirely as this could present a fire hazard. If bulbs are broken or missing, replace them.
To extract a broken bulb, wear gloves and use long-nose pliers (pull mini-lights straight out; unscrew C-7 or C-9 bulbs counterclockwise). Once a light string is complete, plug it in and check for burned-out bulbs. Unplug the string before replacing faulty bulbs and then retest it to be sure all the lights work. If the string doesn’t work at all, check it for a blown fuse, per the manufacturer’s directions. If the fuse has blown, replace it; if it blows again, replace the entire string.
4Set up a ladder. If your home’s eaves are low, you may be able to use a stepladder; otherwise, plan to use an extension ladder. Place it firmly on flat ground and, extending it well above the eaves, lean it against the eaves at an angle that will be comfortable and safe to climb—neither too steep nor too flat. If you must lean the ladder against the gutter, place a short piece of 2 by 4 inside the gutter to reinforce it. (For more about proper ladder use, see Ladder Safety.)
5Hang the lights along the eaves. Your objective is to hang lights as easily and safely as possible without marring your home’s trim or walls. For attaching lights along gutters or the roof, use plastic clips made for the job—these grip shingles or gutters and have a lower hook that holds a light strand or extension cord.
6Attach the lights to the trim. For attaching lights to window trim and similar vertical surfaces, use tube light clips or nail-on plastic clips like those shown at right, readily available at home improvement centers. Space them about 12 inches apart or as recommended. Do not use staples or nails to hang light strings—they can pierce or wear away the protective insulation, creating an electrical hazard.
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