Bring joy to the world with heavenly lights

Before holidays, test the extensions, check the fuses, and put up light clips

November 16, 2003|By Mary Beth Breckenridge | Mary Beth Breckenridge,KNIGHT RIDDER/ TRIBUNE

Maybe it's anathema to talk about Christmas decorating before the pumpkins are gone. But while the weather's still mild and your fingers aren't yet freezing, you can do some preliminary work on your outdoor holiday decorating that will make the job easier once the season is in high gear.

You'll save yourself some running around by making a plan first. Create a rough drawing of your house and yard, and highlight the features you'd like to decorate with lights, evergreen roping, wreaths, figures and so on. Then make a list of the things you'll need to buy or make.

Think about electricity

Measure the features you intend to light to determine how many light strings you'll need. You can figure that a 35-bulb strand is about 15 feet long; a 50-bulb strand, about 23 feet; and a 100-bulb strand, about 42 feet. For bushes, a 100-bulb strand will cover about 15 square feet.

Make sure you have a place to plug everything in. Light strings and extension cords should be plugged only into outdoor receptacles. They should never be threaded through windows or under garage doors, where the insulation or wires can be cut accidentally.

If you don't have outdoor receptacles, have an electrician add enough to handle all the outdoor lights you're planning to put up. The receptacles should be equipped with a ground fault circuit interrupter, which automatically shuts down the electrical circuit if water reaches the wires.

While you're considering the receptacles, make sure your electrical service is adequate for your decorating dreams. Older homes, in particular, may need an upgrade to handle big displays.

Check the lights

Now's a good time to take inventory of your decorating supplies. Plug in light strings to make sure they work, and look through your decorations to see whether you have everything you need. If you do it now, you can pick up items such as outdoor bows or replacement lights the next time you're out and save yourself the frustration of having to stop in the middle of decorating to run to the store.

If you do find a string of miniature lights that doesn't work, don't automatically pitch it. It may just need a new safety fuse, which is easy to replace by sliding open the door on the plug. Some light strings have built-in fuses, however, and must be discarded when the fuse blows.

If the fuse isn't the problem and you're determined to find the cause, check out the Christmas Light Co.'s handy online troubleshooting page. Go to, click on "Decorating tips," then click on "Troubleshooting."

Try plastic gizmos

Check your extension cords, too. Replace any that are worn, and make sure the cords you use are rated for outdoor use and the right size for the job. You should avoid using extension cords as much as possible, but if you must use them, stick with cords with No. 16 or heavier wire gauge. (The lower the number, the heavier the gauge.)

You might even want to take advantage of the weather and install light clips now, so you can put up your light strings more quickly when it's cold.

Retailers sell all kinds of plastic gizmos for holding your lights in place without damaging your house, including some that clip onto gutters and others with tabs that slide under roof shingles. They're safer than staples or nails, which can puncture wire insulation and create a hazard.

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