I put the Christmas lights on the house yesterday. Normally I don't hang them this early, but the weather was good enough (no wind, no rain, 40 degrees F) and so it seemed the thing to do.
Around our house, the exterior Christmas lights are a longstanding holiday tradition. It's just not Christmas until the lights are up. Over the years, I've tried various light arrangements, some good, some not so good.
For instance, a few years ago I hung miniature chasers (the blinking "motion lights") around the windows. The kids liked them, but they were a huge hassle to hang because of the triple wiring, plus I thought the motion was too frenetic and "over the top". I found I preferred the gentle glow of the stationary lights to any sort of blinking or motion.
I enjoy the look of the clear icicle lights hanging from the gutters, but again, they were a hassle to hang because of the two sets of lights. Plus, icicle lights IMHO are "so 90s". So last year, I stopped hanging the icicle lights.
A few years ago I had trouble with the garage breaker always going with the extra power draw of the lights. So I had an electrician add another circuit and outlet to the garage. Now I use that outlet for the lights, plus it's conveniently located for using power tools in the driveway or yard.
These days, I like the clean look of simply outlining the major vertical and horizontal lines of the house, and not outlining the windows. So I have them on the gutters, up the garage eves, and down three verticals. About 125 feet or so of lights. I re-used the same lights and layout as I did last year, but this year I planned the power system (what plugs in where) better.
About 7 years ago I invested in a quality Intermatic timer from Home Depot to turn the lights on and off, which I use to switch the powerbar the extension cords & lights are plugged into.
I have the lights set to turn on in the morning so we can see them through the windows as we start our day. Everyone enjoys that. And of course I have them turn on automatically in the evenings, so when we get home from errands or work, the lights will already be on. The timer is a complete godsend; I never knew what a hassle turning the lights on and off was until I didn't have to do it anymore. I've become a huge fan of timers and motion detectors since then; but that's another blog post.
I use strands of C7 bulbs, not the big C9s or the little miniatures lights. The just seem a good size, plus the I prefer the non-frosted C7 lights - they're colored, but you can still see the filament inside. Also, the C9s draw a lot of power, which can trip breakers, overheat extension cords, etc.
I attach the lights to the gutters using gutter clips. I use the type of clip that grips the base of the light, so each one stands out perfectly. That gives a much neater appearance than the kind of clip which holds just the wire. This year, I went up on the roof and installed from above. I'm much more comfortable working on the roof now since I put both antennas up for my HDTV. Anyway, it was much easier and faster to do it from the roof rather than from a ladder.
There's no getting around using the extension ladder to install the lights on the eaves over the garage, though. To attach the lights to the eaves and to the verticals, I use a staple gun with 1/4" light duty staples, and staple over the wires to hold them in place, again with the lights perfectly in place. I pull the staples out with a pair of long nose pliers when the lights come down. The 1/4" staples are just long enough to hold small extension cords in place as well. When using staples its important to make sure you don't staple through the wires. I've done that before by accident, but after pulling out the staples, no harm seemed done. I certainly wouldn't use anything other than light duty staples.
I also have a flat rope light wound around the basketball pole, which gives it a candycane appearance. That's just held in place at the top and bottom with nylon wire ties. The pole is big enough I had to use three ties connected together, but it worked fine.
I also use two miniature light meshes to wrap the globe-shaped bush near our front door, which gives it sort of a "ball of lights" appearance. That's just draped around the bush, poked in place and held by little twigs and branches.
The garage also gets three 18" stars over the double doors. This was trickier to hold in place. Each light uses one long wood screw that I screwed just a bit into the siding. Then I hang the light on the wall over the screw, and use a twist tie from the grocery store to connect the light to the screw, cutting off the excess.
Last year, the girls talked me into outlining the front yard with the white stake lights, because they liked the look of a neighbor's yard they had seen outlined that way. And when we were done, it looked like an ice skating rink - way too empty. So God help me, the girls talked me into adding an illuminated, animated reindeer (it moves its head side to side) and a wireframe tree with colored lights. This was a huge step into Tackyville for me, but the kids like it.
For power, I use indoor/outdoor rated light duty extension cords. There is one extension cord out to the bush by the door, which is where the bush and yard lights all come together. This is the kind of cord that has a multiple plug head; I also use some of the multiple plug adapters from Home Depot on other cords. The lights over the house are strung together and powered by one extension cord. The lights over the garage are powered by a third cord, and a fourth cord powers the stars. All four extension cords are plugged into the power bar, and the power bar is then plugged into the timer unit into the GFI-protected circuit in the garage. After everything is up and running, I make sure that no extension cord is getting warm - that's a sign of overload.
I also make sure that the cords are completely unrolled, uncovered, and can dissipate any heat that they do create. A few years ago, I didn't unroll one of the cords; I just pulled out the two ends far enough out for what I needed and left the rest wound tight around the plastic extension cord holder. The next morning, I could smell a burning plastic smell. It turns out that the slight warmth I could feel on the cord - no big deal - had been building up inside the tightly wound portion and was melting the cord's insulation. That was a fire waiting to happen. Very scary. I'll never make that mistake again.
Everything I used came from the local Target, Rite-Aid, and Home Depot stores, purchased over the last few years. This year I was lucky enough to re-use everything from last year and needed to purchase nothing. I keep everything including some of the extension cords in one large sturdy cardboard box - the "Xmas lights box" - so I don't have to futz with finding things.
So if it sounds like we have a lot of lights, well, we do, although not the most in the neighborhood. There's a house three blocks away where they go all out, draping every tree, shrub, and bush in their yard in lights, every structural element of their home outlined, colored uplights on the side walls, etc. Quite well done, actually. That home is the one in the neighborhood where everyone stops to admire the owners' efforts.
Updated 12/5 with some more details.