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Homeowners’s Guide for Holiday Lighting

We all love the cheerful glow of holiday lights so lets make the process seamless from start to finish. We'll show you how to make hanging, storing and setting up holiday lights easier.

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How to Add an Outdoor OutletFamily Handyman

How to Add an Outdoor Outlet

Most homes have only two exterior outlets—one in the front and one in the back. That may be OK most of the year, but it’s a real hassle when you’re hanging holiday lights. It can be dangerous, too. Overloading cords or outlets poses a fire hazard, while crisscrossing your driveway and sidewalk with cords creates tripping hazards. In just a few hours, you can solve these problems forever by adding an outlet or two. Do it safely and easily with this simple through-the-wall technique.

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Easy outside light controlFamily Handyman

Easy outside light control

We all love the cheerful glow of outside holiday lights, but going out in the cold to plug them in and unplug them is a pain. Use an outdoor remote control switch so you can control them from inside your home or car. And you can buy these inexpensive devices at home centers or online. All you do is plug the switch into any door outlet and use the small transmitter to control it.

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The Cost Factorpogonici/Shutterstock

The Cost Factor

While LED Christmas lights will cost you more money upfront, you'll save money in the long run. You can pay $13.65 per month to decorate your rooftop with those old incandescent lights, or you can pay 22 cents with LED lights (prices estimated by Xcel Energy Colorado). And LEDs cost more to produce because components are often assembled by hand, they need conducting material to dissipate heat and to get a natural white glow they are often coated with yellow phosphor.

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The Weather FactorJo Ann Snover/Shutterstock

The Weather Factor

LED christmas lights have no problem coming on and working in cold temperatures. And in fact, LEDs get more efficient as the outdoor temperature gets lower.

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They're DurableArina P Habich/Shutterstock

They're Durable

LED Christmas lights get high marks when it comes to durability. In tests, LED bulbs didn't burn out after over 4,000 hours, while standard light-string bulbs burned out at a rate of one to two per strand before half that time.

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Testing Holiday LightsFamily Handyman

Testing Holiday Lights

There’s a way to test (and fix) the entire string of holiday lights without testing each bulb individually. Try the LightKeeper Pro (www.lightkeeperpro.com). It’ll identify and oftentimes fix most problems in miniature and icicle light sets (but not the sets of larger lights or LED lights) with a few squeezes of the trigger.

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Test the BulbsFamily Handyman

Test the Bulbs

Test the bulbs with an inexpensive tester, available where holiday lights are sold and online. Usually, changing a problem bulb (or tightening it) will fix the entire strand. The tester will indicate which bulbs are bad and need to be replaced. (For the tester to work, the lights must be plugged into the electrical outlet correctly-the narrow ‘hot’ blade into the narrow slot and the wide neutral blade into the wide slot.) Some testers work by having you slide each bulb through a hole. And with other testers, you simply touch each bulb.

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Repair Holiday LightsFamily Handyman

Repair Holiday Lights

It seems that most of us have experienced the frustration of uncooperative holiday lights. There’s a simple way to solve the problem. First, slide back the plastic covering on the plug to check the fuse. Some strings have more than one fuse, in which case they’ll be next to each other. Replace any blown fuses. New ones are available where holiday lights are sold and at some electronics stores.

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Cool to the TouchTierneyMJ/Shutterstock

Cool to the Touch

If you have children or pets and are concerned about safety around holiday decorations, LEDs are a good choice because they produce next to no heat. And that means they're always cool to the touch.

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Hang Lights from GuttersFamily Handyman

Hang Lights from Gutters

If your house has gutters, you can hang lights from them without leaving the ground. And all you need are an 8-ft. 1x2, a strong magnet and some galvanized steel plumber's hanger strap. Cut the hanger strap into 7-in. sections, bend the sections into hooks, and attach the hooks to the string of lights every 5 ft. or so. Screw the magnet to the 1x2, and hang the hooks on the gutter one at a time. This is a bit more difficult on a two-story house. You have to screw two or three 1x2s together to reach the gutters, and 'grabbing' the hooks with the magnet as they hang far above you is trickier. But it's still better than climbing a ladder. DANGER! Stay away from power lines.

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Better Holiday Light ClipsFamily Handyman

Better Holiday Light Clips

Make inexpensive and long-lasting holiday light clips using a common staple for electrical cable wiring. Snip the staple in half and fasten it to your fascia or trim with the remaining nail. It holds the wire securely, but it’s still easy to slip the wire behind the clip. These clips hold up year after year no matter how cold it gets. And if you have metal fascia, use stainless steel screws so they won’t rust.

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Hook for tall treesFamily Handyman

Hook for tall trees

Putting up and taking down holiday lights in a tall outdoor tree can be tricky. The easiest method we've found is to use a paint roller extension pole with a hook on the end. You can use a wire coat hanger or other heavy-gauge wire. Just embed it in the pole threads, bend the wire up into a hook and secure it with duct tape to keep the hook from sliding around the pole.

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Holiday Light HangersFamily Handyman

Holiday Light Hangers

Instead of poking nails into aluminum soffits and fascia when you're hanging holiday lights, clip the wires to the bottom lip of the fascia with clothespins. But be careful up on the ladder. Click here to learn more about ladder safety.

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Store Lights on a Hose ReelFamily Handyman

Store Lights on a Hose Reel

To keep your holiday lights from getting tangled and make it easy to string them around your yard, roll about 30 strings of lights onto a portable hose reel that has wheels and a handle. Pull the lights around your yard and roll off as many as you need.

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In a BucketFamily Handyman

In a Bucket

Test your holiday lights before you go to the effort of stringing them on the tree. And when the season is over. coil them into a 5-gallon pail to keep them tangle free for next year.

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In a BagFamily Handyman

In a Bag

This has got to be the easiest way to store strings of holiday lights. Just put each string in a separate plastic bag and write where the lights go right on the bag. No wrapping or coiling necessary. It's in the bag!

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On a SpoolFamily Handyman

On a Spool

Here's a great way to recycle cardboard and keep your strings of holiday lights from getting tangled when you store them. Just use strips of cardboard and cut out a slot on each end to make a "spool" to keep the lights from slipping off. Check out these 12 other ways to brilliantly reuse cardboard boxes.

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On a StandFamily Handyman

On a Stand

Storing holiday light strings without wrecking them is tough. Here's a great idea: Just screw a dowel to each end of a wooden base cut to the size of a large plastic bin. And then wrap your lights around the dowels in a figure eight and place the stand in the bin. You'll be amazed how many light strings you can wrap around the stands without them getting tangled or damaged. Check out these other great storage ideas.