GIMME SHELTER- In the dark? Do holiday lighting right

Jim Harshaw, Albemarle Window Cleaning, Holiday Lighting Specialists


Q: We want to be better prepared this year when we break out our holiday lighting. Any tips for doing things right this time?

A: With dark setting in so early, the holidays offer a great opportunity to spruce up an otherwise drab landscape with lights. However, safety is always the number one consideration when installing exterior holiday lights. Between ladders, electricity, and slippery roofs, there are plenty of hazards to consider. 

For instance, always plug exterior lights into a GFCI outlet (the ones with the two little buttons). If you don't have one, have a licensed electrician install one for you. Also, be sure that any lights, timers, and extension cords are rated for exterior use. Always check the light and extension cords for nicks, cuts, broken insulation, or exposed wires. And remember: when it comes to electrical issues, it's always best to call an electrician.

Lighting tips

Design: try to balance your decorations with lights both near the ground and at elevation. You can accentuate architectural features on your home or landscape with more lights or different colors. 

 For dazzling trees: focus on smaller trees (15' and smaller). Start by wrapping the trunk and choose a handful of main branches. Be sure to choose branches on all sides and the top to balance the tree's design. Don't skimp– use enough lights so that the viewer can't distinguish individual light strands. 

For a professional look: use 7-watt C7 base lighting along rooflines. Make sure your spacing is even. These bulbs pull more wattage than mini-lights so be sure to mind your load on the circuit. Typically you can run 100' of C7 lighting before needing to tap into another outlet, but read your packaging and consult an electrician to be safe (this depends on the gauge of the wire as well as the distance of the run).

Purchase: if you have a lot of mini-lights to install, buy the strands that allow six to be connected end-to-end (as opposed to three). They're a better quality product, and it will save you time and effort.

 Tree installation: when wrapping tree trunks and branches, prepare your strands by wrapping them into a loose ball with the female plug end on the inside of the ball. Plug it in, and unravel the ball around the tree. Do the same for removal (it's easier and leaves your lights ready for next year's installation).

Prevention: wrap any connections with electrical tape. This not only helps keep the connection intact; it also helps keep the weather out.

Removal: wrap lights around an empty spool (I get empty wire spools from from hardware stores that would otherwise be thrown out). You can also just wrap them around a board. Looping them and then wrapping them in tin foil is also a popular tactic.


Trouble shooting

Overloaded circuits: snow how many amps you're pulling, and don't overload the circuit (typically 80 percent of a circuit is considered full, i.e. 12 amps on a typical 15-amp circuit).

Water gets into a plug: reset the GFI (the outlets with the little buttons). If this doesn't work, you may have water in a connection somewhere. Wait and hope it dries out or start searching for the problem connection.

One light goes out and they all go out: if your strands come with spare fuses, try changing the fuse in the plug end. Be gentle when handling your lights, and buy the highest grade lights possible (the lower the wire gauge number, the higher the quality). If you have the patience, you can pull and test each light. Often, though, simply seating the light into its base more firmly will do the trick.