The holidays are around the corner, and, before you know it, people everywhere will be climbing up on their roofs, battling it out with Old Man Winter just to spread some Christmas cheer. Lights are a huge part of the holiday spirit, but it’s important not to wreck your home in the process. I’m not saying you need to be a scrooge, but I am saying you need to protect your home. You’ve invested too much in maintaining a healthy exterior to compromise its integrity over a few holiday lights.
I hate doing things twice, and I’m sure many of you do, too. So before anyone starts drilling through their eavestroughs and nailing through electrical wires (I’ve seen it all, folks), I thought it would be helpful to give you a pep talk first.
Replace old lights. Cold weather causes the wiring in string lights to become brittle, making them vulnerable to being damaged. The chances of damaged lights/cords increases the longer they stay out during the year. That’s why, before climbing up any ladder, it’s important to make sure every light bulb is working and the cords aren’t frayed in any area. If they are frayed or damaged, don’t try repairing them — replace them. The last thing you need this season is a fire hazard.
Do not overload circuits. Some people want their home to be the neighbourhood showstopper. But a goal like that is likely to blow out a couple fuses — a certain Chevy Chase Christmas movie comes to mind. Prevent this by making sure the receptacle’s/outlet’s circuit is rated to handle the total amperes of all the lights you plan to use. Most sources will say not to connect more than three light strings end-to-end, or 300 lights, but in my experience, one rule does not fit all. Check to make sure, every time.
LEDs: I highly recommend using LED lights to anyone. They’re brighter, more energy-efficient, and cause fewer fuses to burn out. LEDs mean more light for the same electrical capacity and more sparkle for your buck.
Power stakes: This is an electrical box, usually with three receptacles/outlets, that has a long cord attached to it. The box stands on a stake that you drive into the ground. The purpose of a power stake is to bring the power where you need it without running a maze of cords across your yard. They’re fairly inexpensive and they keep the outlets above ground. This protects them from precipitation and from being covered by snow. Most come with a circuit breaker and some models even have timers. That’s smart. But just because you have more outlets doesn’t mean you have more power. Average circuits usually allow for a maximum of approximately 1,200 watts. You need to keep that in mind. Although some people think installing a power stake is a DIY project, I recommend consulting with an electrical contractor to make sure the outlet you plug the power stake into is dedicated, meaning there are no other sources drawing power from it, and you stay within the circuit’s limits.
Extension cords: Extension cords are for temporary use only. If you’re going to use one, make sure its compatible with your lights and that it can hold up to the winter weather. That means the outside jacket of the extension cord needs to be rated for exterior use and the wire gauge must be rated for what you plan on plugging into the extension cord. I’d recommend at least a 14-gauge outdoor-rated extension cord.
Fasteners and clips: Anyone driving nails into cords or attaching lights with staples automatically ends up on Santa’s bad list. It’s a fire hazard, it damages the cords, and you can seriously harm yourself — not a happy holiday. In fact, avoid using nails, screws and staples entirely. Why? One, they’re conductors of electricity. Two, they rust. And three, they create holes in your home’s exterior. Holes allow water to penetrate and eat away at the exterior. Instead, use fasteners or holders made from rubber or heavy-duty plastic, which safely grip the eavestrough or a roof’s shingles without damaging them. A lower hook holds the lights/extension cord in place.
Make sure they’re strong enough to handle the weight of the cords.
Window fasteners. Hanging lights to window frames using nails or staples damages them because of the holes they create. Holes in window frames allow water to penetrate into the wood, rotting it from the inside. Look for plastic or rubber fasteners with a moisture-resistant, peel-and-stick backing that can be stuck to windows. Try using ones that can hold up to 10 pounds for extra security.
Working outside in the cold makes it tempting to cut corners. Get the work done before the temperatures start to really drop, and you’ll be able to appreciate all your hard work from the best viewpoint: indoors with some eggnog.