With some precautions and a game plan you can tackle this festive task.

By Maridel Reyes
July 15, 2019
Ryan McVay/Getty Images

Nothing is more festive than decorating your home with twinkling holiday lights, but if this is your first year attempting an install, the prospect can be daunting. Even so, experts say it doesn't have to be. "If you're an able bodied person who's not scared of heights, you can hang your own lights," says Scott Parrish, a professional light installer with Illuminight Holiday Lighting in Chicago. Here, he tells us how.

Take Precautions

Whether you're a lighting novice or have been doing it for years, always take proper precautions. "Always realize you're one missed step away from the hospital," warns Parrish. "Seriously, we wear harnesses, almost never use ladders since they are too dangerous, and are very conscious of how we move and go about laying extension cords to avoid trip hazards," Parrish explains. He stresses that you should also never set foot on a wet or icy roof.

Know When It's Time to Call a Pro

But there are certain cases where you should call a professional, like if you want to hang lights on your roof, have a complicated design in mind, or if you don't want to be out in the cold during the installation, he adds.

Gather Your Supplies

Before you start, spend a little time wrangling the right tools. You'll need a sturdy ladder (like a gorilla ladder or an extension ladder), clips, electrical tape, extension cords, tri-taps, timers and zip ties.

Figure Out the Amount of Electricity to Power Your Display

"Without enough power, we can't do anything," Parrish explains. Depending on the type of light you're using (options include incandescent, LED, mini lights, C7, C9, or Icicle lights) you can figure out the total amount of watts you need. Each light should have a little UL sticker that tell you the amount, he says. Once you know the wattage, you can multiply them by however many sets of lights or bulbs you have. "A general rule of thumb is that each outlet can hold about 17 amps or 1,870 watts, and that's only if the lights are not sharing a circuit breaker with another outlet." Plan accordingly. Run the power so you know where to start hanging lights.

When it comes to type of light, he prefers LED to incandescent. Even though they cost more up front, they last longer and are much brighter and durable than incandescent lights, he says. They also use a lot less electricity. And because you can plug so many of them back to back, you don't need to worry about overloading the fuses that come with the lights.

Decide What Features of your Home to Spotlight

Keep your budget in mind. If you can spend a little more, wrap lights around big trees. "They have the most impact and really are beautiful to look at," he says. For a more modest budget, do smaller trees and some roof lighting. For small budgets, focus on the entrance to your home and bushes.

How to Hang

Start with the biggest or highest feature first. Whether it's a tree or the roof, always work top to bottom. That way, you're not stepping on or breaking anything. If you're lighting a tree, set the extension cord in the middle of the tree, put a tri-tap on it, and start running lights from it. Wrap around each branch and keep going until you're at the tips. Once again, start from the middle and go to the top and highest points first. You don't want to step on your lights and break them, which is the risk if you start low and go high. If you're having the roof done, the experts start by putting the bulbs into the sockets to fit the run. Then, they we put on the clips as they put up the lights. When the workers finish a run, they tape up the ends so no water gets inside and put a plug on the other end and connect it to the power supply. Finally, set the timers to when you want the lights to come on!


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