Before you get out the ladder and go to town hanging Christmas lights, you need a plan: What type of lights are you going to hang, where are you going to hang them, and how are you going to hang them? You may just be executing an around-the-gutters-and-eaves operation, or you might want to consider something a little more involved. No matter how simple or complex, it helps to have a plan.
Take measurements so you know how many lights you'll need. (There's nothing worse than hanging a string and realizing it only covers two-thirds of the intended space.) Then evaluate your power situation. Know where the outlets are and determine if you'll need to run extension cords from the outlet to the final destination where the lights will hang. Determine what tools and hooks you need to hang the lights.
Tabatha Wrisley of We Hang Christmas Lights, a professional Christmas light installation service, recommends Omni clips which clamp onto gutters or slide under roof shingles to hold bulbs in place easily. Another smart pick? Power stakes. "Power stakes bring power closer to where you need it so you don't have to run cords all over your yard," she says. "For extra convenience, look for stakes with timers and remote controls." Then make a list (check it twice!) and start shopping.
Always consider safety. Ensure all extension cords and light strings are in good condition and there are no exposed wires, broken sockets, or other safety hazards (and that they are made for outdoor purposes). When it comes to extension cords, the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) advises to match your power needs, or the amperage, of the lights to the amperage of the extension cords. (Check out their other smart safety tips, too).
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends not using more than three standard length strings of lights per one extension cord. (Check out the CPSC's brochure for more holiday safety tips.) As you are planning your lighting, ensure cords are kept away from snow and water and aren't tripping hazaards either.
Step 1: Pick a mild day and start hanging lights outdoors when there's plenty of daylight left to burn.
Step 2: Lay out all of your lights in the garage or another dry place and untangle any strings; test for burned out bulbs. (There's also nothing worse than hanging lights to discover half the string is burned out.)
Step 3: Inspect your ladder to make sure it's in good condition and opt for a wood or fiberglass ladder. The ESFI says metal ladders can conduct electricity...not a good thing.
Step 4: On your house, start with the highest point and work your way from side to side and then down.
Step 5: Be sure to secure your lights tightly but without damaging the wires. (Avoid nails and staples for this very reason. Also, not so good for your house.)
Step 6: Work with a partner. You'd be surprised how much easier the process is for an extra set of hands. (And there's safety in numbers -- it's nice to have a spotter.)
Step 7: When you're done, admire your work! And don't forget to put your lights on a timer or unplug them before you go to bed.