Sunday, December 5, 2010

Anal retentive Christmas exterior illumination tips

I think that it’s time to share some of my tips from many years of suffering that I have endured while decorating the outside of the house for Christmas and other holidays.

The most time confusing and tedious part is hanging up the icicle lights.

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I’m not a big fan of heights so I use a telescoping Christmas light install pole with little plastic gutter clips like this one.

light hanging kit

I test all of the lights before I put them up. I do this because it is no fun to put up lights all the way down the house and then discover that a whole strand is out. That is something that happened last year. I start at the far end of the house and move right. One key to doing this quickly is that I pack them at the end of the year and number the strands so I know which one goes where down the line. I know that is incredibly anal retentive but it saves me trying to make sure I am not putting up too few lights to make it all the way down the house (which happened three years ago).

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Wind is a real factor here. It’s not uncommon to have cold fronts come in with 40 to 50 mph wind gusts this time of year. Because of this, I use plastic stakes to anchor all of the plastic stand up figures like the bear and the penguins. This is also a deterrent for the little heartless thieves that like to steal Christmas decorations! I drill two holes in the base and hammer the stake right through to the ground.

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I have a spiral Christmas tree that I have to hold down with stakes and a nice brick.

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Rain is also a big part of late fall and early winter here. I wrap most of the electric connections where decorations plug into extension cords in aluminum foil. This helps keep fuses from blowing when the surprise monsoons blow in (as they did about 5 years ago!).

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For lights around the front door, I used to use flexible tube lights. They are a pain because they love to burn out and I found the only real way to hold them up was with electrical tape. So, I switched last year to traditional Christmas lights and I started using Velcro Christmas light clips. They are much better.

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I used to use a manual timer which had a dial and a ring of little plastic “hammers” around it that you pressed in to set the on/off time. It was so annoying and never seemed to keep time right. (I only have the lights on from 4:30PM to 9:30PM). So, this year I went digital. Also, note in this picture the extension cord with a zip tie around it that is not plugged in. That is the cord with only my two 7 foot inflatables on it. I keep them on their own cord so I can unplug the inflatables when the wind is going to be high (again with storms or cold fronts). Wind above 25 will shred the 4 strings that hold up the inflatables. This way they can be easily unplugged while still leaving the lights on.

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Speaking of 7 foot inflatables, 4 strings anchor them to the ground using 4 hooks. When packing them up for the year, put each string in it’s own sandwich bag or these things will actually find a way to tie to each other. I don’t know if it is evil magic or what but I learned my lesson on this one a few years back!

santa

See the lizard in this picture? That is another thing to keep an eye out for while messing with lights and other stuff outside this time of year. These little guys will jump on you if you are not careful. They have sticky toes and they don’t like to let go. It’s the Christmas surprise that is a little icky and gross.

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Finally, I have learned to keep a small stash of spare light bulbs and fuses because you have no idea what is going to go out when. The weather here is extreme right before Christmas. It was 75 degrees the day I put these up and it will be 14 tomorrow night. Some bulb somewhere will not like this. It’s also a good idea to keep extra strings and hooks for the 7ft. inflatables. A good time to get spare parts is the week after Christmas when it is typically 50-75% off.

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My folks never decorated the outside of the house at Christmas and I sort of understand why due to how much work it is. But, the kids seem to enjoy the fact that people typically slow down driving past the house at night to look at the lights and Christmas is all about keeping the kids entertained with my repeated near-misses with electrocution.

Once it is all finished, it is quite a site to behold. (I need to take a newer picture since our Thanksgiving turkey has now been replaced with a 7 ft. reindeer). I’m sure we also make the electric company quite happy!

small house

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