With Christmas just around the corner, many people are getting prepared by installing their Christmas lights display. If you are new to the holiday decorating scene, this article can serve as inspiration for your first Christmas lights show.
From the best incandescent or LED Christmas lights to use to the bulb spacing and materials needed to start decorating, continue reading to find out how to have the best decorated house on your block.
Choosing the right outdoor lights
One way to categorize the various types of Christmas lights is through the version of lights, themselves: incandescent and LED (Light-Emitting Diode) lights.
Incandescent bulbs were the first source of electric light and are named for the method of which they produce light. These bulbs produce light through work by heating an interior wire filament to extreme temperatures until they produce the warm, yellowish glow that incandescent bulbs are known for.
To further explain, incandescent bulbs consist of a glass enclosure containing a tungsten filament that is heated by the electric current running through the wire until it begins to glow, producing the light. They also contain a stem or glass mount attached to the base of the bulb, which serves as protection from gas or air leaks and as support for the filament/ wires contained in the bulb.
It may be shocking to some that such an old technology such as incandescent light bulbs, are still widely used after 100 years. There are a few reasons as for why incandescent bulbs are still so popular. The biggest reasons are because of its extremely low manufacturing cost, its ability to work on bot alternating or direct current, and its compatibility with control devices such as timers and dimmers.
With regards to Christmas light displays, incandescent lights come in a wide variety of different bulb shapes, sizes, and even colors, that can come in handy for your decoration needs. The fact that they are much cheaper than other types of outdoor lights is also a big plus. Now onto the other popular choice of lights:
2. LED Lights
The next version of holiday lights are LED Christmas lights.
LED lights are known for being more expensive in comparison to incandescent lights and for producing a pure white glow. These lights produce their glow by utilizing light-emitting diodes encased within a solid material, allowing for a much longer shelf-life for these bulbs along with a decreased susceptibility to fail when shocked or vibrated.
The first LEDs costed over $200 per diode to produce and could only emit a red light. While the red glow became highly used for highway signs, lights, and other signal purposes, they were limited in residential ability. For LEDs to begin use in a residential or commercial setting, it had to produce a white light instead of its other red, blue, and green colors.
To fix this issue, manufacturers began to place the red, blue, and green diodes in close proximity of each other to produce an overlapped glow that appears white.
LEDs do have redeeming qualities when being looked at from a Christmas lights show perspective, however. LED lights use less energy than incandescent bulbs, they last longer than any other light (some LEDs last up to 100,000 hours), they burn at a lower temperature, and can come in both cool and warm glow varieties.
With the two types of bulbs out of the way, we can now move on to the different varieties of Christmas lights themselves, such as mini-string lights, wide-angle LED mini lights, large bulb lights, battery-operated lights, and many more.
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3. Bulb Sizes and other Features
- Mini-string lights – these lights are what most people think of when they hear the word “Christmas lights”. They come in both white and multi-colored varieties and can be found very easily. These lights have smaller bulbs and light a smaller area.
- Wide-angle LED mini-lights – an unique twist on regular LED lights, wide-angle LEDs have a cone shaped bulb that gives off more light when compared to other outdoor Christmas lights. Additionally, these LEDs also blend effortlessly into their surroundings when not in use, because of their unique shape.
- Large bulbs – large bulb lights are categorized by their size as C7, C9, and G16 bulbs, with C7 being the smallest and G16 being the largest. These bulbs are used as multi-colored bulbs primarily and can be easily switched out with replacement bulbs when they burn out. The predominate colors for these bulbs include purple, teal, green, blue, red, yellow, amber-orange, white, clear, and multi-colored.
- Battery-operated – battery-operated outdoor Christmas lights work exactly as they are named, fitted with a battery that allows these lights to be disconnected from the house’s electric source. Since they do not require a direct power source, these lights can be valuable for displays that are not close to the house or where cords would be considered dangerous if left out.
- Animated and color-changing – the last bulb type is the animated and color-changing bulbs. These lights add an eye-catching action to a Christmas light display and can set apart one show over another.
4. Shapes and Forms
- Icicle lights – these special Christmas lights are often seen hanging off the roofs of houses around a neighborhood. The lights have bulbs that hang in an alternating pattern to resemble icicles hanging off the house. There a variety of lengths that you can choose when draping them off a roof. They are known for proving an almost whimsical snow-covered appearance to the houses they are draped around.
- LED rope lights – LED rope lights are ideal for decorating doorways, windows, and even walkways of a house. A great benefit of these rope lights is the fact that they can be shaped and displayed in intricate patterns to add elegance to a decorated house.
- LED projection spotlights – projection spotlights are a truly unique approach to decorating a space for Christmas. In fact, they aren’t even lights at all. Using LED spotlights use a mini projector to various patterns and shapes anywhere that is near an outlet. They require no installation and save time when compared to draping traditional string lights. LED projections can be plugged into an outlet and pointed anywhere, both indoor and outdoor.
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Tools and other materials needed
1. How Many Strands
After deciding to decorate your dwelling for the holidays, the first thing you must figure out is how many strands of lights that you will need. Generally speaking, the amount of outdoor Christmas lights you use to decorate a space is entirely dependent on your own preference and whether you are decorating the exterior of your house only, or the trees along with your house.
Despite your preference, you should also take bulb spacing and string length into mind when shopping for your decorations. Christmas light strands with further apart bulbs are ideal for wrapping around slender posts, like mailboxes, and tree branches. Strands that consist of bulbs packed tightly together are ideal for draping loosely around indoor trees/plants and lining roofs or overhangs.
It is important to remember that two strands, even with the same number of lights, will not have the same string lengths if their bulb spacing is not identical. This means that you must pay attention to the bulb spacing stated on the box, to prevent an unneeded trip to the store after you have started decorating.
Meanwhile, to decide how many strands you need to decorate the exterior of your house, you should plan ahead and measure each area you plan to drape with lights. It is a good idea to write these measurements down and keep them in a safe place, so you don’t have to remeasure every holiday season.
2. Materials and Tools Needed
- Timer and lighting controls
- Extension cords
- Tape measure
- Insulated holders
- String lights
Where to start
Once you have the tools and materials necessary to start decorating your house, you first need to plan out where to start your decorating. First and foremost, try to hang your decorations well before the holiday season, when the weather is clear, and the temperature is milder. If you do not wish to hang your lights this early, you can at least install the proper hooks and hangers, and running extension cords to get a proper head start to decorating.
Start hanging your lights along the gutters and roof by using Christmas lights hooks that are made for this specific purpose. These clips will grip shingles and gutters and include a lower hook that holds the light strand or extension cord.
Next you should attach the lights to the trim of the house by using rope light clips or adhesive plastic string Christmas lights clips. You should space the Christmas lights clips about 12 inches apart, unless otherwise stated on the box’s directions. Never use staples or nails to hang light strands on the trim or vertical spaces on your house, as they will pierce the protective insulation on the wires, creating an electrical hazard.
Leave decorating the doors, walkways, and windows until after you finish the higher parts of the house. This way, you can decide whether or not you want to decorate the doors and windows, or if it will be seen as over-kill. Areas like columns and walkways are easier to decorate and will take less time, meaning you can easily add decorations to this area relatively easy.
Related: How to Celebrate Christmas on a Tight Budget
Tips for having the best Christmas lights display
Here are a few tips to help you decorate your house for Christmas without it becoming an overly stressful experience:
- Plug in your Christmas lights to make sure all of your bulbs work.
- Use a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet to power your decorations. This type of outlet will shut the circuit down when it detects an overcurrent, reducing the risk of an electrical fire. If you do not have a GFCI outlet already installed, your local electrician can permanently install one on the premises, or you can buy a portable one from a hardware store.
- Use waterproof or resistant lights that are marked with an underwriters lab (UL). This symbol means that the lights pass national industry standards dictated by the American National Standards Institute.
- Always connect 100-bulb strands or higher, separately. Only connect 25-bulb strands together, up to a maximum of three strands connected together.
- Make sure the wattage dictated on the strand lights match the wattage of the extension cord you are using.
- To cut down on your energy bill during the holiday season, make sure to install a Christmas lights timer to your decorations. With a timer, you can set the time in which your lights turn on and off, reducing the chances of accidently leaving the lights on when you aren’t home.
After reading through this article, we hope that you have gained confidence in your holiday decorating skills. Let the knowledge gained become an inspiration for any future Christmas lights ideas, both big and small. Happy holidays and have a Merry Christmas!