There's one in every neighborhood: the house that looks like an A-list movie director oversaw the artful hanging of outdoor lights along the eaves, trees and shrubs.
There's usually another kind of house in every neighborhood, too: the one that looks so tacky that you've given thought about how to pull the plug without getting caught.
How do you create an outdoor lighting display that looks more like the former than the latter? By following some tips from Experts in Your Home, who happen to be experts outside the home, too.
Plan Like a Director with Outdoor Lighting
Any A-list movie director knows: you can rarely “over plan.” It could save you hours and hours of tiring, physical work – not to mention frustration:
- Select a focal point. It could be your front porch or the columns framing your front door. And wouldn't it be perfect if it were an evergreen on the corner of your property line? Whatever your home's focal point, start by formulating a plan right there.
- Select “understudy” focal points. Without overdoing it, look for obvious (and relatively easy) places from which to hang lights. Some practical choices include along the eaves or roof line, railings and posts, windows and walkways and the driveway. Some places “cry” for lights, so begin there and stop and evaluate your work, at night. You can add more lights later if you want to.
- Coordinate light colors. This could be the trickiest part of the process: deciding to use clear lights, colored lights or a combination of the two. For every person who insists that clear lights are elegant and classy, there is another person who says they look dull and decidedly “un-festive.” It's a subjective call. Just be sure to test your lights first and compare them, side by side. “White,” “off white” and “warm white” lights look very different. And even lights designated as the same color can look brighter when they're new rather than a few years old. Also, strive for some consistency: use the same colored lights on common elements. For example, use clear lights on all your trees and colored lights on all your shrubs (or vice versa).
- Measure first, then coordinate straight surfaces. Measure all the straight surfaces you wish to adorn with lights, add up the numbers and then compare the total to that of your light strings. Knowing how many strings of lights you need will reduce the number of trips to the store (because really, there probably will be at least one). While your tape measure is handy, measure the distance to the power source, and be certain not to overload it.
- Measure first, then coordinate trees and shrubs. A fabric tape measure can best help you measure your trees and shrubs so that you can wrap the tape measure around them. For every 1½ feet of greenery, you will need about 100 lights for a moderate display of light. So if you have a 9-foot evergreen in your front yard, you will need at least 600 lights.
Heed Safety Rules with Outdoor Lighting
Before you light up your home, be sure to put safety first to prevent electrical shock and fire hazards:
- Inspect your lights, extension cords, spotlights and other electrical decorations. Throw away any device that shows signs of wear, and especially frayed wires, broken or cracked sockets and loose connections.
- Make sure that your lights, extension cords, spotlights and other electrical decorations include a tag designating them as approved for outdoor use. Never use indoor lights outdoors; they aren't designed to withstand the elements.
- Match the power needs – otherwise known as amperage – of the lights with the amperage rating of your extension cords.
- Use either a wooden or fiberglass ladder outdoors since metal ladders conduct electricity.
- Plug all outdoor electrical devices into circuits protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs).
- Keep all extension cords and light strings away from standing water.
Even the most talented directors have a crew, so if an outdoor lighting issue throws you for a loop, don't guess or take a shortcut; call the Experts. Your home, too, can look like it was decked out by an A-list movie director. And the Experts stand ready to call “Action!”