Buying and hanging
What do you get when you combine a ladder, 6 inches of snow, 25 feet of extension cord and a disgruntled homeowner? A sure sign that it must be that time of year again -- time to hang the outdoor Christmas lights. This year, don't end up with frost bite and a blown fuse. By planning your task from start to finish, making your home sparkle like an enchanted cottage in a winter wonderland won't leave you face first in a snowdrift, tangled in a string of icicle lights.
Before buying lights, use a measuring tape that is 30 feet or longer to determine the size of whatever you plan to decorate.
Measure the height of shrubs or trees, the length of the house and any door frames or window frames you plan to decorate.
When you have gathered all your measurements, tally the total number of feet of light strings you will need.
While shopping for lights, invest in some light clips. Most hardware stores sell light clips designed for hanging strings of lights from gutters, shingles and window and door frames.
You will also need to buy an adequate length of heavy-duty extension cord.
Before you buy any lights, know that there are basically two kinds to choose from: Light strings with C-7 or C-9 watt bulbs, which feature larger bulbs similar to nightlight bulbs, and strings of minilights, which have tiny 1.5- to 2.5-volt bulbs.
Many people prefer minilights because they are inexpensive, use less energy and are cooler burning.
On the downside, though, a strand of minilights may not work at all if one bulb is broken or missing.
If you do buy minilights, short 50-light strings are often a better option than longer strings because if one string does burn out, it will be easier to replace.
Although C-7 and C-9 bulbs use more energy and burn hotter, they are heavier duty and more reliable, and the entire string of lights will still work even if one bulb is broken or missing.
Whether you choose minilights or larger bulbs, make sure your lights are approved for outdoor use by the Underwriters Laboratory. (Look for the UL symbol of approval.)
Also look for light sets that have a male plug at one end and a female receptacle at the other end. These can be plugged together, which makes them easier to route.
Test strings of lights first and look for broken or missing bulbs.
To extract a broken bulb from a string of minilights, unplug lights, put on gloves and use a pair of long-nose pliers.
Locate an electrical receptacle and run heavy-duty extension cords from a working 120-volt electrical outlet that is protected by a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter.
Outlets that are controlled by an indoor switch are ideal.
To hang lights along the eaves, lean an extension ladder against the house at a comfortable angle that's not too steep or too flat. Extension ladders should extend well beyond the eaves. If you must lean the ladder against the gutter, place a short piece of board inside for reinforcement.
Use plastic light clips to attach lights along gutters or shingles. To attach lights to window trim, use tube light clips or nail-on plastic clips spaced about 12 inches apart.
Don't use staples or nails to hang strings of lights. They can damage protecting insulation and create an electrical hazard.