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Illuminate Your Christmas

Buyers' Guide For Outdoor Christmas Lighting (page 1 of 2)

Find tips and trends on the latest outdoor lighting gadgets and decorations.

More in Outdoors

With Christmas just around the corner, you might be wondering what to give those on your shopping list. But have you thought about what to get your yard? A happy yard with a cool Christmas light display puts a smile on everyone who passes by.

Ready to trip the lights fantastic? Here’s what you need to know:

All Strung Out

The essence of any holiday lighting scheme is strings of lights you attach to eaves, roofing shingles and gutters. Lighting strings come with as few as 25 bulbs and as many as 200. Lighting clips make installation easy and are designed to work without poking holes in your roofing or trim.

Specialty clips are designed to add lights around windows and to grab onto brick surfaces.

Choose lighting clips based on the size of the bulbs (see Bulbology, below) in your lighting strings and to what building part you’ll attach the strings. Clips grab the light sockets, so you can position the bulbs upright, hanging down or horizontally. A pack of 50 all-purpose clips is about $6.

Christmas Lights Clip

Courtesy of Christmas Lights Etc.

Keys to successful lighting strings:

- Map out your scheme carefully before installation.

- Use only light strings and extension cords approved for outdoor use.

- Strings are designed to plug into each other to create long runs, but never use more than three strings on any one run.

- Plug light strings into same-length strings. Don't mix and match strings of different lengths — the wires are rated for different amperages.

- Measure the distance carefully and write everything down so you'll only have to make one trip to the store.

If you need a measurement for spiraling up a post or tree trunk, wrap a string around it, then lay the string flat to measure the length you'll need.

The Great Debate: Incandescent vs. LED

Actually, the debate is over. LEDs win in every measure except initial price: A string of LEDs costs about twice as much as same-sized incandescent bulbs. But because LEDs are so long-lasting, the price differential is erased after two to three years of use.

“Last year for the first time, sales of LEDs surpassed incandescents,” says Mike Streb, of online retailer Christmas Lights Etc.

- Energy efficiency. LEDs use about 10 percent of the electricity that incandescent bulbs do. An incandescent bulb must heat up its filament to produce light, and about 90 percent of the energy it uses goes to producing heat. LED technology sips energy and produces very little heat, which in turn reduces the risk of fire.

Many types of LED holiday lights meet Energy Star guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

- Longevity. LEDs last two to three times longer than incandescent bulbs. Plus, LED bulbs typically are made of lightweight plastic and less likely to break than glass incandescent bulbs.

- Brightness. Incandescents hold the edge, but LED light strings usually feature more bulbs per string. Call this one even.

Red LED Holiday Lights

Courtesy of Christmas Lights Etc.

Bulbology

Like shoes and cologne, Christmas light bulbs have fashion swings. Although mini lights have been by far the most popular during the past decade, larger, more “old-fashioned” bulbs are making a comeback. All styles are available as incandescent and LEDs. Here’s what you need to know to be a true bulb fashionista:

Mini lights look like tiny candles with pointed tips. They are about 1/4 inch in diameter and 5/8 inch tall.

C6 bulbs are smallish strawberry-shaped lights that are often thought of as the traditional Christmas tree light. Bulbs are 3/4 inch in diameter and 1 1/8 inches tall.

C7 bulbs have a similar shape as C6s but are slightly larger and rounder. They are 1 inch in diameter and 1-1/2 inches tall.

C9 bulbs are the big brothers of the holiday bulb family, measuring 1-1/4 inches in diameter and 2 1/2 inches tall. They are frequently used in outdoor applications.

G series bulbs are globular and come in a variety of sizes. They’re found in everything from table lamps to auto taillights. To figure the diameter of a G series Christmas light bulb, take the number that appears after the G, divide it by 8, then round to the nearest whole number. For example, a G15 is about 2 inches in diameter.

Clear, frosted and patterned glass options add pizzazz to the quality of the light each bulb emits.

Rope lights are strings of mini lights encased in flexible plastic; the entire tube looks like it’s lit up. Rope lights are great for wrapping posts and making garlands of colored light.

Colorful christmas mini lights

Courtesy of Christmas Lights Etc.

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