Everything You Need to Know About Buying, Hanging, and Storing Christmas Lights This Year
When December (or even November) rolls around each year, you might be excited to watch all the Christmas movies on Netflix and share your favorite Christmas quotes far and wide, but you might also be dreading the most physically challenging part of Christmas: hanging Christmas lights. Even knowing how to put lights on a Christmas tree might not help you if you have a sharp roof line or tons of outdoor greenery to cover. The sad truth is, looking at Christmas lights is grand; learning how to hang Christmas lights is a headache.
Until now, at least. We've polled the pros for the best tips for buying, hanging, and storing Christmas lights with minimal stress and strain, so you can focus on coming up with the best Christmas card sayings and shopping for Christmas gifts. Follow these tips, and you'll be sipping eggnog and staring at your very own Christmas lights in no time.
How to buy Christmas lights
Before shopping, do a little prep work to make sure you get everything you need in one go. Look at your home from across the street at night to identify which areas you want to adorn. Consider what will look best and what level of installation challenge you're confident tackling. Bushes and hedges are the easiest spots to illuminate. "Use net lights. You just drop them on and you're done," says Lance Allen, holiday merchant at the Home Depot. The roofline is a little more advanced. Measure the base of your house to determine the length of lighting you'll need and add a few more feet to account for steep pitches, recommends Thomas Harman, CEO of Balsam Hill, a seasonal home decor company.
Using a diameter tape measure (a flexible tool that can be wrapped around cylindrical objects, $15; amazon.com), calculate the length of cord needed to cover curved surfaces, like porch columns. Also note how far away your power source is to ensure you have enough outdoor extension cords. Plugging too many light sets into one outlet can overload the circuit. Check whether you have 15- or 20-amp outlets: A 15-amp outlet can safely handle 1,440 watts, and a 20-amp outlet can handle 1,920 watts. The wattage of your lights should be on the box or tag.
To calculate how many strands you need for your holiday tree, consider light count and tree height. Follow our complete guide here.
The pros recommend using outdoor lighting both inside and out to avoid confusion over which cords belong where in future seasons. The package should clearly state that the lights can be used externally. Next, decide whether you want LED or incandescent lighting. While the latter offers a warm, vintage glow, LED lights are much more durable and energy-efficient. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, they consume up to 80 percent less energy and can last 25 times as long as incandescents.
Most brands will include the color temperature, measured in kelvins (K), on the outside of the box. For exterior decor, 2,700K to 3,000K lighting will appear soft and inviting. Lights above 3,000K will likely give off an unflattering glare that makes them difficult to look at directly. For your indoor tree, choose 2,300K to 2,700K lights to achieve a gentle glow. "These will look the most like warm candlelight," says Greg Lehmkuhl, creative director of Terrain, a garden and lifestyle store.
Select cords that match the color of your tree's needles so they blend in among the branches. For your house's facade and roofline, opt for brown or green cords. Use white cords for light-colored gutters and window moldings.
Purchase at least four more boxes than you think you need. If a strand breaks or you decide to extend your decoration into other areas, you'll have backup. Plus, lights typically sell out quickly, so you may not be able to find the same model on a second trip. Gather the extra bulbs that come with the strand in a zip-top bag in case you need to replace any throughout the season.