Hanging Christmas lights with the pros

August 18, 2008

I had a good friend growing up, whose father always decorated his entryway, and some of the trees and bushes on the front of the house. He did this every year while we were growing up. It always looked ok, but he seemed to struggle with the installation each year. This went on for several years until we were high school age, which was the last year he hung Christmas lights. His final installation consisted of him opening the front door, plugging in the lights, and tossing the lights over the closest bush. He shut the door, returned to the couch to watch football, and never hung Christmas lights again. Perhaps if he had had some professional advise about hanging his lights, the exercise would have been more of a pleasure rather than a hassle. that got me thinking….We work with professional Christmas Light installers, and maybe I could get some advice from them. Thankfully a few of them were kind enough to agree to an interview, and answer some of the common questions we get about hanging Christmas lights.

For the average homeowner, what are the most common types of Christmas light installations?

If the homeowner is doing their own installation, they will usually just light the bushes or smaller trees. Roofline installations are less common, as most homeowners do not have the equipment, or do not want to get up on their roof to install the lights. In some cases, they may connect their outside lights to their plugs inside, unfortunately, this may cause a power surge resulting in some damage to the inside of the home if it is extensive. The use of a home warranty can be a great help in instances such as this, more can be learned about it over at First American Home Warranty for homeowners who do not have one yet.

I see a lot of spectacular displays where homeowners have wrapped their trees (trunks and branches) in Christmas lights. I really love the way this looks so I tried to do this last year without much success. My wraps were uneven and began to sag in many places and it just didn’t look professional. What is the best approach to doing a tree wrap installation?

There are many different theories on how do to do this, but from the installers I talked to, this was the most common method. The first thing to do is make sure you have a sturdy tree, that can deal with the strong winds and storms that the winter months can bring. If not then using things like a tree service that will cable your tree to strengthen it, will help to make your Christmas decorations stand tall and look festive right through the season. Then you can begin to decorate. Start at the crotch of the tree (run an extension cord up the trunk, to the crotch of the tree, so you have power where you want to start and you connection is up off the ground) Before starting, you will want to pick out the branches you want to light, and the ones you do NOT want to light – Think of the “shape” of the tree, and pick out the largest branches that will give you the even lighted look you are going for. Start at the lowest branch you are going to light, and begin wrapping out the branch. Space your wraps evenly and tightly, about 6″ apart. Once you get to the end of the branch or where you want the lights to stop, cross back over the branch, and wrap back towards the center of the tree, crossing over your original wraps making X’s every 3″. This will give you a very full look, and will also help keep the lights in place. You will then move on to the next branch, and repeat the process. You should end back at the center of the tree when done. If you would also like to wrap the trunk, you can do this now, with the same processed used to wrap each branch – Starting and stopping at the top of the trunk, so your connection is up off the ground and out of reach.

What are the best style of Christmas lights to use for tree wraps?

The best bulb styles to use when wrapping trees, are the 5MM or the G12 sets – These have a small uniform bulb, which will give you even light distribution, and do not have “points” on them that can catch on the wire as you are wrapping. It is also better to use shorter sets (25-70 lights per strand), as they are easier to handle during installation/removal, and do not tend to have as many issues as the longer sets.

I’ve also seen many fantastic displays where the homeowners have hung Christmas lights all along their roofline or eaves. (I haven’t dared try this on my house because of the pitch of the roof…) Although I have never tried this myself I’ve seen some displays that look great and others that look sloppy. The ones that look great have perfectly spaced lights which extend across the roofline on an even plane. The ones that look bad don’t have even spacing and the lights are out of line. What is the best way to do a roofline installation?

The best way to get a clean and evenly spaced roofline installation, is to use a Christmas light clip on every bulb. If each light is clipped to your roof, you will have a nice, clean, and straight line of lights, with no sagging. You want to make sure to keep the wire tight between each clip, which will help with the sagging, and keep everything in place. It also helps if you have the exact amount of lights (length) you need, as this avoids dark spots (where you ran out of lights), and trailing down the gutter or around the side of the house (where you had extra lights).

What are the best types of Xmas lights to use for a roofline installation?

C7 or C9 are the bulb styles of choice for roofline installations. These bulbs are usually spaced further apart, which will give you a nice outline of the building, without giving you the look of a solid line of light. The C7 and C9 bulb options are also available in Retrofit Bulbs, which means you can purchase the wire and bulbs separately.

However, you will need to consider aspects like wall to ceiling channeling and wiring lengths. This allows you to cut the wire to the exact length you need, and also allows for custom colors or color combinations – This is how the professional installers get the lights to look so perfect. This is typically a job for DIY roofers, especially for those with some experience under their belt. So, if you don’t have the time or patience, but you still need the lighting to look great, then hire a professional roofing service.

Many people have bushes, shrubs or hedges around their entryway or in other locations they would like to add some holiday color. The displays I have seen have been all over the board–some people will try to wrap the bush horizontally; others will install the lights in vertical lines on the face of the shrub; and others (like my friend’s dad) seem to have just thrown them on. I’ve never figured out the best approach to this. Do you have any suggestions?

The trick is to light the bush/hedge randomly. Don’t try to space evenly horizontally or vertically – It is almost impossible to do this, unless you have a perfectly manicured bush/shrub, with perfectly spaced branches, and A LOT of extra time. Instead start laying the lights on the bush/shrub one direction (vertically or horizontally), leaving space between each “line” of lights. Then go back over the same area, this time going the opposite direction. Stand back about 10-20 feet, to see how it looks, and then make adjustments as needed. This will give you a much more uniform appearance, will look fuller, and you don’t see the “not quite even” wraps going around the bush/shrub. Trunk Wraps or Net Lights, are another popular option for homeowners. The lights on these products are already evenly spaced on the net, so all you have to do is place it over the top of the bush/shrub you want to light, and plug it in. If you are plugging it in from the inside, you will need to be mindful of your appliances as it might shortcircuit them if not properly checked. If this does happen, you can go over to websites such as https:www.bob-appliance.com to see about getting them repaired.

Are there any bulbs styles that are better for bush and shrub installations?

It really depends on the “look” you are going for, and the size of the bush/shrub. The most common bulb styles used, will be the 5MM, G12, or M5 bulb styles. But if you prefer a different shape, or your bush/shrub is larger, even the c6 bulb style would work.

Do you have any tips for those of us who don’t go crazy with the outdoor lighting and just want a nice looking Christmas tree?

A good rule of thumb is you will need about 1 set of LEDs (23-25′ long), per foot of tree height. Most people have a 6-7 foot tree in their home, which would require 6-7 sets of LEDs to light. If your tree is fuller or you like a really bright tree, you will most likely need to add a few sets to this total. If your tree is more on the narrow side, or your like less lights, you will most likely minus a few sets from this total.

It also somewhat depends on the bulb style you use – Larger bulbs take up more space = less bulbs needed – Smaller bulbs take up less space = more bulbs needed (EX: 6-7′ Tree would require 420-630 M5, 5MM, or G12 lights, where if you used the C7 or C9 bulb style, it would only require 225-325 lights)

For additional tips on how to light your indoor Christmas tree, please check out our article Decorate Your Christmas Tree Like a Pro This Year.