13 Expert Tips for Dazzling Christmas Lights

Better Homes and Gardens' Christmas Ideas Editor Ann Blevins offers advice for using outdoor holiday lights to create a winter wonderland.
Ann BlevinsExterior of house decorated in lightsWindow box with white lights and pine greenery

  1. Start out small. If you're a Christmas lights novice, light just two or three items, such as trees or bushes, to serve as focal points. Add new displays each year.
  2. Stay safe. Only use lights with the UL (Underwriters Laboratories) label and be sure you're using lights designed specifically for outdoor use.
  3. Know your lights. When it comes to holiday lights, there's a type available for every nook and cranny of your house and yard. Whether you want blinking rope lights outlining windows or net lights blanketing bushes, wising up on your holiday light knowledge will help you get the most bang for your buck.
  4. Check for burned-out lights. Test light strings and replace any burned-out lights before decking the halls. Burned-out lights drain power from the entire light string, and the other bulbs will grow dimmer.
  5. Out with the old, in with the new. Avoid old-fashioned nails, staples, screws, or hooks when mounting your display. Electrical tape is a quick and easy alternative -- it won't destroy your roof, and it's a good tool for protecting electrical connections. Clips, such as shingle tab or parapet clips, hold lights to surfaces by applying simple, safe pressure.
  6. Use a sturdy ladder. Enlist a helper to keep you steady as you hang lights on very tall tree -- you'll stay safe and you'll be able to reach the branches easily. Attach lights to branches with tree clips or twist ties.
  7. Work your way up. To string trunks of deciduous trees, start at the base and wrap the lights around in a spiral. If you want to illuminate an evergreen, however, start at the top and zigzag lights through the center of the tree, getting wider with the tree's shape.
  8. Consider the location. If your evergreen can only be seen by passersby from the front, save lights and work by decorating the tree front only.
  9. Add some dimension. Consider ground and stake lighting for extra holiday oomph. Multicolored lights work well for outlining walks, paths, and driveways.
  10. Avoid bright light overload. Holiday lights can be dazzling and fun, but be careful not to overload your circuits. Include no more than 1,400 watts on a circuit. If other lights in the house dim when you turn on the holiday lights, your circuit is overloaded.
  11. Look around for added sparkle. Find illuminating inspiration in unexpected places. Perhaps a birdbath or decorative porch columns would look pretty with a little extra light. For hard-to-reach spots, or any place you don't want to use electricity, try battery-operated mini lights.
  12. Call in the pros. If you don't have roofing experience, limit your lights to eaves, gables, and the edge of the roof. Keep lights and cords away from metal. Beware of overheated wires, aluminum gutters, and ironwork decor. If you want more lights on the roof itself, call a professional lighting company.
  13. Hit the switch. Turn off outdoor lights before going to bed, and don't leave them on when you're away from home, unless they're attached to a timer with a photocell.