How to Hang Christmas Lights (According to Popular Mechanics)
Despite neighborhood peer pressure, you and you alone dictate the aesthetic direction of your home's holiday display. He who wields the extension ladder in subzero temperatures earns the creative freedom to decorate his yard however he pleases.
Follow these tips for hanging outdoor Christmas lights, and step back and enjoy your masterpiece when you're done.
1. LIGHTS Before you start, make a plan. Measure the locations where you will string lights. Most likely this will be along eaves or gutters and around windows. Use this plan to estimate how many strands you'll need and how long they should be. Unfortunately, there are no standard strand lengths, but there are standard-size bulbs and standard distances between bulbs on a strand. Look for C7- or C9-size bulbs spaced 6 to 8 inches apart. A longer distance between bulbs allows for more light to spread across a wider area, creating more picturesque shadows and greater warmth.
BONUS TIP To avoid the dreaded Gordian knot of Christmas, wrap your lights around a coffee can before storing them.
2. LAYOUT Place the first bulb from the male end of a strand on the corner of your eave that's closest to an outlet. Now extend the line around the exterior of the house, keeping the string taut. Secure the lights with gutter clips so they don't creep up the roof. These are cheap, so buy a bunch. A discreet extension cord will connect the lights to the outlet.
3. TREES You could use net lights, but that's kind of a cop-out. Instead, wrap regular minilights around the trunk and branches. To determine how many feet of lighting you need, divide the height of the trunk by the desired spacing between each strip of lights; about 3 inches is ideal. Then multiply that number by the trunk's circumference. Do the same calculation for any large branches you want to wrap. First, wind the lights up the tree, leaving about 6 inches between each pass. Continue on to the branches, then wrap back down into the empty spaces. That will give you the desired 3-inch spacing. So, for a 6-foot-tall trunk with a circumference of 2 feet, divide 72 inches by 3 inches of spacing, for a total of 24. Multiply 24 by the 2-foot circumference, for 48 feet of lights.
4. ELECTRICIANS Most blown fuses are caused by moisture getting into the connectors that attach strings of lights to each other. Sealing each connection and the loose ends of a string with duct or electrical tape will keep everything dry.
For a traditional look, keep the lights white and dedicated to three spaces: along gutters or eaves, in windows, and on larger trees or bushes. Aim for symmetry. And remember: There are three varieties of white LED lights. Warm white mimics the glow of classic incandescent bulbs. Polar white gives off an icy-blue tinge. And pure white is just what it sounds like. Ideally, you want a mix. Place warm-white strands along the eaves or gutters, and offset those with polar-white lights in your greenery. The two tones play off each other well. Avoid pure-white bulbs. They can make your home look like an enormous headlight.
BONUS TIPS Want to win the admiration of your entire neighborhood? Put lights along the ridgeline of your roof.
Unlike strands of old, today's lights will stay lit even if a bulb goes out, so long as the broken bulb remains in place and completes the circuit.
Evenly spaced tree lighting says, "I have goals and enjoy achieving them." Unevenly spaced tree lighting says, "Hey! Come take a look at this before I flush it!" Decorate accordingly.
The difference between a stately display and a glaring pile of festivity is in the color and number of bulbs. Use a multicolored strand along the gutter; under that, string icicle lights. Vary the size between the bulbs. Bigger C9 bulbs go along the roofline and gutters; C7s are better for the perimeters of windows. You can wrap a garland in minilights. You can wrap your mailbox. You can splay net lighting over your bushes. But please, no blow-up or animatronic lawn decorations. These invite an awkward conversation with your 6-year-old after the deer on your lawn are rearranged in lewd positions by stealthy neighborhood teens.
BONUS TIP To create a well-proportioned light tree, tape the ends of the strands to a hoop.
Buy a real pine wreath and put it on the door. Then stake an E17 LED warm-white bulb a couple of feet back from the door and aim it at the wreath. It says, "I acknowledge that it is Christmas, but I am not getting up on my roof for anything short of a DirecTV catastrophe."
5 A Brief Taxonomy of Holiday Bulbs
Illustration by Brown Bird Design
INCANDESCENT Classic, filament-based bulbs that give off a warm glow.
LED Last twice as long as incandescents. Can appear cold.
WIDE-ANGLE LED Nubbed LEDs with concave tips that throw light.
TRANSPARENT Colored minibulbs with visible filaments.
CERAMIC Opaque and look as if they've been painted. A classic.
GLOBE LEDs inside globe-shaped bulbs that stay cool.
NET LIGHTS Minilights or small LEDs in a webbed circuit.
RGB LED Programmable diodes that can display almost any color.