Outdoor Christmas Lighting Tips
DIY Network's licensed electrician James Young shares tips and tricks for installing outdoor Christmas lighting properly so your joy lasts the whole season.
Be Cautious When Installing Exterior Lighting
Use a good ladder when installing your lights. Secure them with insulated holders (never use tacks or nails). Don't install your lights on trees that come in contact with power lines. Before installing your Christmas lights, plug them in to make sure all of your bulbs are working. Make sure to turn your lights off when you leave or go to bed at night.
Use the Proper Outlet
For starters, safety first! Your source of power should come from a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet. This type of outlet will shut the circuit down if there is overcurrent. We want your lights to shine, not sparks to fly! If you don't have a GFCI outlet, a qualified electrician can permanently install one outdoors for holiday seasons to come. Or, you can buy a portable outdoor unit from your local home store for less than $20.
Keep Extension Cords Out of the Way
When using extension cords, make sure they are rated for outdoor use, and keep the connections above ground, snow and water. Try to avoid high-traffic areas. Tape cords across walkways, and use the correct length needed to travel to your lights. You don't want your cords to be too long so they pile up and create walking hazards.
Always Choose Waterproof Lights
There is a variety of lights to choose from. First and foremost, always use waterproof or water-resistant lights with a tag marked underwriters lab (UL). This means the lights meet national industry standards with the American National Standards Institute. Also, when you're buying Christmas lights to use outside, make sure they are rated for outdoor use (just like your extension cords). Never use indoor Christmas lights outdoors.
Using C7 or C9 Bulbs
For a more traditional holiday light, you will want to use a C7 or C9. These are the cone-shape lights you'll find most often in home improvement and convenience stores. The difference in these lights is size and wattage, with C9 being a little bigger and easier to see from a distance. Both come in frosted or clear color bulbs and are great for illuminating both your house and trees.
You can buy these in strands of 25 bulbs or larger strands of 100 bulbs. The 25-bulb strands can be connected together (daisy chained) up to a maximum of three strands; 100-bulb strands should be connected separately. Don't connect them together! The C7 and C9 strands use a standard screw-in candelabra base for easy bulb replacement. The strands are connected so if one bulb fails it only affects itself. Buying light strands with inner fuses is a great idea to prevent excess current on the strands.
Using Miniature Bulbs
Another option for outdoor lighting is the "miniature," which costs less and consumes less power than the classic outdoor light string. It can be used around the perimeter of your home, as well as in trees. In most cases, the miniature comes in strands of 50 or 100. The strings run in series, which means if one bulb or socket fails, you can lose a whole section.
The positive thing is that most miniature bulbs have a shunt inside of them to keep the entire string of lights lit if a bulb filament burns out. The key is to quickly replace the burned-out bulb. The shunt will allow the rest of the lights to remain lit, but it will increase the voltage in the rest of the bulbs, reducing their lifetime. With miniatures, you get what you pay for, so get a quality set of lights, and don't connect more than three sets of strings.
Using Landscape Net Lighting
To light shrubs and bushes, net lighting is a great way to go. Net lighting is a mesh of interconnected mini LED lights that can drape right over your shrubs like a blanket. No more weaving light strings in and out of branches!
Using Animated Lighting
Animated lights are great for Nativity scenes, as well as reindeer and angel displays. Animated lights are made of wire frames outlining different shapes and scenes, and they are surrounded with mini lights in different color variations and patterns.
Using Shimmer Spheres
Shimmer spheres come in shaped and circular formations, like snowballs, or stars and striped formations. They are made up of many lights in different sizes. You can even find some that twinkle. Your house will be shining with holiday cheer for the whole block to enjoy.