Turn your house into the winter wonderland envy of the neighborhood with the right exterior lighting. When it comes to holiday decorating, you can go as minimal or as big as you want – just be mindful of these 5 tips before you find yourself in a tangled, fuse-blown mess:
1. Take Measurements
Before you guesstimate how many strands to buy, measure all windows and doors, along the roof, shrubs, and wherever else you plan to illuminate. After calculating the linear footage required, check the lights’ packaging for length and buy accordingly. Don’t forget to account for the distance between your outlet and where the start of the lights will be; and use an outdoor-rated extension cord to avoid lights going straight into the socket.
2. Choose the Right Bulbs
Your display preferences will inform your bulb choice. If you like a warm white look with a slight yellow cast to it, opt for incandescent lights. These are especially ideal for smaller jobs such as lighting a lamp post or wreath. They’re also typically less expensive than LEDs, but they have a shorter life span and consume 80% more energy. For more ambitious displays, energy-efficient LEDs are your best bet. You can find LEDs in a range of styles from miniature-sized to colorful retro bulbs. (Pro tip: if you want to avoid bulbs with a cool blue undertone, look for LEDs marketed as “soft” or “classic” white).
3. Consider the Spacing
Although a more tedious task, you may be inclined to double-check the distance between individual lights. This information comes in handy when wrapping lights around an object, like a pillar, or outlining the frame of a window – the wrong spacing can totally offset your creative vision, especially if the bulb spacing doesn’t match other strands in the light display. Buy sets that come with less than 12 inches between bulbs. Typically, larger bulbs, like chunky C7s or C9s for the roof, look best when the lights are between 6 and 10 inches apart. Smaller lights or minis should be spaced more tightly to avoid having to wrap a mailbox post or a column multiple times.
4. Tree Tips
Conifers: The rule of thumb is 100 lights per every vertical foot of tree. Opt for larger bulbs that won’t get lost when viewed from the street.
Deciduous: Minis work fine and you can wrap wide trunks with net lights to save time; but it the tree is less than four feet in circumference, use string lights.
Shrubs: Use mini lights with 25 to 50 lights per set on a green cord for seamless blending. Tuck them into shrubs in a random pattern, keeping the strings 4 to 6 inches apart. And wrapping bulbs running between bushes with black electrical tape saves you from having to buy blackout caps.
5. Power Up (With Caution)
LED bulbs are generally spaced closer together than incandescents and you can string more of them end to end. That being said, it’s a good idea to limit incandescent mini bulbs to 10 strings of 50 lights for one plug. With LEDs, you can go up to nearly 50 strings, each with 70 lights. Always plug lights into a covered outlet protected with a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI)—running cords from inside the house through a window or a mail slot is a fire hazard. Reminder: not all lights are designed for outdoor use. Protect all connections between strings from moisture with electrical tape.
(This information was originally shared in This Old House magazine. Author // Sal Vaglica.)