Tips for Holiday Lighting
A Valley specialist shares his advice for holiday light displays at home.
By John Roark
From humble beginnings in 17th-century Germany when small candles were affixed to tree branches using melted wax, to today’s technicolor synchronized displays, holiday lights have come a long way.
For many homeowners, the annual adorning of their abode’s exterior is a ritual enjoyed by the whole family.
“Arizona’s mild winter weather makes it easy to get out and dress up our houses and yards for the holiday season. We don’t have to fight the snow and cold when we decorate our landscapes or go out and enjoy the view,” says interior designer Paige Lewis, whose bedecked Moon Valley residence is part of a visual destination every holiday season. “On Christmas Eve, our neighborhood is crowded with visitors looking at the displays. It really is a wonderful tradition.”
Gone are the days of unwieldy strings of glass filament bulbs, which were prone to breakage, not to mention fire hazards. The advent of the LED bulb was a game-changer, says Danny Dille, owner of a local holiday lighting installation company. “Over the years, we’ve seen many changes with technology and quality of lighting kits. Illuminating your house and yard is a lot easier than it used to be. For those who want to do it themselves, a beautiful outdoor display can be created without investing too much time or money.”
For first-timers, Dille outlines essential steps to successful seasonal lighting.
Do some field research. “Pictures are key,” Dille says. Spend some time looking at what other Valley residents have done and take shots of ideas you like, or do an image search online. Make a list of elements you want to be part of your own presentation. “Clients miss the mark when they say they just want a lot of lights on the trees, shrubs and house. That can backfire if you don’t have a plan. Pictures help define what you do and do not like.”
Next, take a photograph of your own home and ask yourself, of the ideas you have collected, which would look good on your property. To help you visualize, place a piece of clear acetate or tracing paper over the image and, using different color markers, outline what you want to feature on your house. Pay attention to fascia boards, gutters, garage doors and the front entrance. Play with different ideas and see if there are any areas you want to add to or take away from.
Make a list of four or five “must-haves” to narrow down your overall goal. “Once you have that starting point, you can begin to put your lighting and decor package together,” he advises.
Know your power. While modern LED lighting uses 80% to 90% less wattage than the incandescent bulbs of yesteryear, overloaded circuits can cause inconvenient power outages and even fires. For an average residential Christmas light set-up, “You need at least one 15-amp breaker that has 10% to 15% capacity available,” Dille recommends. “You can run all of your holiday lights on that lone breaker as well as put a timer on it.”
A residential amp meter or voltage tester will tell you how much power you have to work with for each circuit. Once you have selected all your lighting, add up the wattage and voltage of each element to find out how many amps you need.
Take your time. Depending on the size of your display, installation may take a couple of days. Hang lights on the house first, followed by the landscape.
“Review your handiwork 15 minutes before sunset,” Dille advises. “At that time, you will have the best ambient light. Stand back, look, take a picture and analyze it. You may want more or fewer lights in some areas. If you squint your eyes, you will be able to see where the dark spots are in your design and adjust accordingly. It’s a great way to see if your display is where you want it to be.”
Above all, be safe, Dille says. “Be aware of your surroundings and ensure that you know how to properly use a ladder and walk on your roof, if necessary. Don’t work on your installation if weather conditions are wet or windy. A little safety and self-awareness will go a long way toward ensuring that you will fully enjoy your efforts all season long.”
Danny Dille’s Tips for Lovely Lighting
Colored spotlights add a lot of illumination to a specific area and create dramatic shadows. They are a great solution for homeowners who don’t want to invest the time in wrapping branches or shrubbery. You can set timers to change colors throughout the evening.
Start with your light string at the bottom and move up the trunk of the tree. Work your way to the end of each branch and back again, wrapping between the original loops to get to the next section of the tree. This will give you a uniform look.
Bedecking these spiny cacti can be done, but be very careful. A painter’s pole with a hook made from a coat hanger attached to the end can be used to apply string lights without getting too close to the saguaro and risking injury.
Often, your landscape maintenance company can help install lights on these towering plants. They already have the climbing gear.