Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Outdoor Holiday Lights

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Whether you’re looking to have yourself a merry little holiday or shamelessly trying to keep up with the Griswolds, there’s no doubt a well-planned light display is a mainstay of the season. Holiday lights represent all that is jolly and bright—that is unless you find yourself tangled in a twinkly string of semi-burnt out bulbs and frustration.

Luckily, this first world problem pales in comparison to the woes of our ancestors, as candles were first used in the 17th century to light up Christmas trees–yikes! As you can imagine, fires started easily and often, with homeowners having buckets of water on hand to help battle a sudden blaze.

The advent of electricity saved many a festive tree and fewer and fewer Christmases went up in smoke. We have Edward H. Johnson to thank for that. In 1882, Johnson—an associate of Thomas Edison—dressed up the first known electrically-illuminated Christmas tree with 80 custom made walnut-sized incandescent bulbs in red, white and blue. His look caught on and by 1900, businesses were dressing their window displays with the colours of the holiday before the new strings became more commercially available (and affordable) for the average household by the 1930s.

Red brick home with black shutters decorated with christmas lights

To help you on your merry way, we’ve prepped this season’s most coveted holiday light cheat sheet with the help of Edward Casey, Category Business Manager from Canadian Tire. Keep reading to learn tips and tricks for planning the perfect display, ways to save money on your energy bill and holiday light safety 101.

Tips and trends in holiday light displays

Fail to plan, plan to fail. One of the most important things to remember when contemplating a holiday light display of epic (or average) proportions is creating a master plan. “Make sure to have a good picture of the look you want to achieve before you start decorating to avoid disappointment,” says Casey. This is where that high school math may come in handy; measure twice, cut once. Casey suggests you take some time to calculate how many light strings you’ll need and what accessories you need to pull it off–this will save you multiple trips to the stores during high season. Don’t forget key accessories like light clips, extension cords and timers, too.

Person writing in a planner
Image via Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash

Smaller and brighter is key. Casey says energy efficient LED lights are gaining popularity as consumers look for bulbs and cords that nestle seamlessly into structures, trees and holiday wreaths or lawn ornaments.  You can also find battery-operated options, perfect for lawn displays or hard-to-reach corners.

Tiny lights in a tree
Image via Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

As a general suggestion, Casey typically recommends LED lights over incandescent. The disadvantage with incandescents is you end up paying more in electricity costs. Incandescents are inefficient since 90% of the energy goes toward heat and only 10% toward the actual light. Using about 1/10 the wattage of incandescents and lasting up to 10-times longer, a display of LED lights will help you save on your energy bill for the season and last years with proper care and storage.

Be smart about it. “A clear trend is a shift towards smart home and customized light shows,” says Casey. People want a custom light show and they want to show it off in a big way. Make use of your current infrastructure by integrating your display with your smart home technology. Impress the neighbours by setting the flicker pace to a classic holiday tune, or changing the colour scheme on demand. “Many want to have the flexibility to match their lights to their house design and colour scheme while being able to use lights for multiple occasions,” says Casey. “We saw this trend coming from traditional indoor lights with the rise of smart home and voice command lighting.”

“Hey Google, turn off my holiday lights.”

Choosing your holiday light style

The great thing about curating your own holiday light extravaganza is the ability to entirely switch it up the following year with little cost. That being said, it’s important to know your options before heading into your local hardware store and becoming mesmerized by all the pretty lights—just like you should never go to the grocery store on an empty stomach. Here are a few options to consider:

Turn your outdoor holiday display into a winter wonderland with icicle or snowflake-shaped lights.

LED projection spotlights require no installation, are a timesaving alternative to traditional string lights and are available in a wide variety of colours and patterns. “For a small price, you can fill your entire house with colour-changing starfields or amazing animations and effects,” says Casey. “There is also a segment of untraditional decorating utilizing neon rope lights.”  Rope lights are typically much brighter than regular lights and create a very futuristic look, perfect for outlining doorways, windows, trees and walkways.

If you’re after a timeless look, think about investing in a variety of string lights in hues of white and incorporating subtle pops of colour like blue, green or red. You can find a variety of options including strings with large bulbs, mini lights or nets. If you’re looking to get the kids excited about decorating for the holidays, consider a lawn inflatableor two.

Tip: Not all white string lights are created equal. There are noticeable variances in the temperature of the glow, some are cooler and give off a blue-ish tint while others may be a warmer yellow. 

Tips for installing holiday lights

Now that you’ve created your master plan, it’s time to deck the halls. There are a few things to remember when installing holiday lights in the name of safety and sanity. First and foremost, check your lights. Make sure there are no exposed wires or broken sockets and test each string to ensure the lights are all working and replace any bulbs that have burned out.

Check your surroundings, make sure you know where your kids and pets are at all times. You’ll likely be scaling a ladder and tools may fall in the process.

If you’re connecting strings of lights together, avoid connecting more than five or six strands end to end and overloading the circuit. Always avoid pulling the strands too tight in order to reach an outlet.

Practice good etiquette when deciding on the placement of your holiday lights and decorations. “Make sure your decorations are not blocking sightlines for drivers or neighbours to the street,” says Casey. “Consider only turning music and sound effects on during evening hours, but going silent by 8 or 9 p.m.”

Use the right gear when attaching lights to your home’s exterior. There are a variety of light clips and hooks to be found at your local hardware retailer that are suitable for attaching lights to your eavesthroughing or shingles.

Finally, take your lights down and store them properly once the season is over. The exposure to harsh weather over a period of time can cause damage to the wires, lights and sockets. Plus, your neighbours won’t be too pleased.

Tip: To store holiday lights, wrap them around a piece of cardboard and then wrap tissue paper around the lights to protect them and keep them dry. 

House decorated with blue and red holiday lights and blow up snowman
Image via James Wheeler on Unsplash

Well, there you have it, our curated cheat sheet of all the  best tips and tricks for choosing and installing your holiday lights. It’s time to deck the halls!

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