‘Is your house on fire, Clark?”
“No, Aunt Bethany, those are the Christmas lights.”
Every town has one, a Clark Griswold who ambitiously covers his house from one end to the other with holiday lights, blinding the neighbors, and causing local brownouts.
But for most of us, it’s just enough to hang a wreath and wrap a few strands around the bushes before spending the rest of the season trying to figure out why only half of them are lit.
Faulty lights are a common problem for many homeowners, according Kim Poulin, office manager of Christmas Décor by Picture Perfect Landscape in Hebron, which offers full-service holiday decorating and light installation.
The solution, however, isn’t what most people think.
“Everyone looks at the bulb, but it might be just the fuse,” she said.
In fact, many homeowners end up throwing away lights after unsuccessfully trying to find a burned-out bulb instead of just replacing the fuse, which can blow after time or if the strands have been pulled or stepped on.
For the uninitiated, the fuse is located within the male end of the plug and replacements usually come in the same bag as the extra bulbs.
Other mistakes homeowners tend to make this time of year are trying to power their outdoor light displays with the wrong cords.
Poulin said that they often see people using power cords that aren’t rated for outdoor use or that have been sitting outside from season to season, compromising their integrity.
“The wiring may not be safe. The temperature goes down below freezing and then up to 100 degrees in the summer. So, the number one tip is to use outdoor-rated cords. There’s a reason; they have certain wiring and gauge to withstand the elements.”
Poulin’s second tip is to be mindful of ladder safety.
A sturdy ladder is important, as well as not standing on the top to get to hard-to-reach places. She said a surprising number of homeowners still teeter on the last rung while hanging lights along the roof line and gutters.
“It’s not meant to hold you; you’re supposed to be on the rung below it.”
And most important, never use staples or nails to hang lights.
Instead Poulin suggests using some of the newer products on the market like the 3M Command outdoor light clips, which can be found at most big-box and hardware stores.
To prolong the life of your lights and other holiday decorations, she recommends making sure that they are dry before putting them away for another year.
“If you put them away wet they may rust in the container. Let them dry out for a day before putting them away.”
Tips for proper storage include wrapping lights like a ball of yarn, with the male plug sticking out for easy testing at the beginning of the next season. Or notching a piece of cardboard and then wrapping the lights around it, much like they come boxed at the store.
Homeowners who want the lights but not the work can opt out by hiring Poulin’s company or Christmas Décor by Aqua Pool in East Windsor to do it for them.
“The trend is to simply pay someone else to do it,” said Aqua Pool owner Michael Giannamore. “We store the lights, repair the lights, replace the lights, we’ll change a bulb in the middle of December.”
Depending on location, budget and taste, having lights installed can cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, but for some homeowners, it’s worth it.
“If they like their house illuminated with something nice, something different, but don’t want to climb a ladder, don’t know how to attach to shutters or shingles, don’t have the time, they are happy to hire a licensed and trained professional to do the service for them. It works perfectly,” said Giannamore.
While some go all out with colored lights and big displays, most opt for a more traditional look.
“The trend is simple, clean, soft white lights; that’s the most popular.”
Though icicle lights were all the rage a few years back, both Poulin and Giannamore said that they’ve fallen out of favor because they can be difficult to work with for various reasons including wind breakage and freezing issues.
“We do not offer icicle lighting,” said Giannamore. “We shy away from them because of the service required.”
For the most part, he said, people choose to light their roof and gutter lines, along with hanging illuminated garland around their doors.
And thanks to the advent of LED, outdoor light displays shouldn’t make a major dent in your utility bill.
“With LED there’s so little electrical usage, you can really light up a house and have very little issue with energy costs.”
That’s good news for the Clark Griswold’s of the world, even though according to Giannamore, they don’t really get many requests for that particular look.
“The Clark Griswold house is not something we are finding a market for. It can get costly to pay someone to do that many lights. We would do it; I just don’t see the market for it.”