christmas lighting

Ensure your home looks yuletide perfect — not Griswold gaudy — by following these simple holiday lighting how-tos.

Start small. If it’s your first year putting up outdoor lights, start by decorating a limited area of the property, such as outlining the windows and eaves. You can add more lights each year as you discover what you want to go where. Measure everything you want to decorate with lights, as well as the distance to the power sources, before you set off for the store so you know how many boxes to buy.

Pick a theme. Pristine white, or colorful wonderland? Whether you opt for a single color or a few choice hues (blue and white, red and green), keep it simple to avoid looking garish. Minimalism also helps if you plan to add additional decorations, such as a stand-up Santa and his sleigh; your scene won’t look overly busy if your background is monochromatic. If you really want to go multicolored, keep your lighting scheme simple.

Choose your lights. There’s a whole toy bag of options when it comes to lights. Incandescent — or mini — lights, the most popular and least expensive of the holiday lighting options, come in the widest variety of styles and colors. In addition to chasing-light and icicle-light options, mini lights come in net, or “blanket,” varieties, which make trimming objects such as shrubs a snap. Retro-style C7 and C9 lights (the big bulbs of yesteryear) are making a comeback, although they’re just as fragile as you remember them. Relatively new to the scene, LED lights are the most expensive of the lot, but their durability and efficiency will save you money in the long run. Battery-operated LED and mini lights are ideal for decorating small, out-of-the-way places, such as a mailbox.No matter what type you buy, be sure the box says the lights and extension cords are UL-listed, which means they are rated for outdoor use. Also, stick with the same kind of lights throughout your scheme, both for consistency in presentation and for ease in connecting strands to one another. (How many strands you can safely string together depends on the kind you buy, so check the box.)

Know before you glow. When unpacking your lights, whether newly purchased or from storage, test each strand before you begin to hang them. Replacing burnt-out bulbs or returning the whole box is a lot easier before the light strings are hanging from your eaves.

Hang with care. Never use metal fasteners (staples, nails, etc.) to hang lights. Electrical tape is the fastening choice of many a holiday-light veteran, although new-fangled clips and stakes made especially for hanging holiday lights offer more versatility. Some versions elevate lights off the lawn while others keep all bulbs on a strand facing in the same direction.

Consider the angle. You don’t have to decorate the backs of trees and other objects that passersby can’t see. Save lights — and electricity — by only decorating what’s front and center.

Don’t drain the grid. If your everyday lights dim when you flip the switch on the holiday glow, it’s time to tone it down.

Safety first. In addition to not licking the flagpole when it’s freezing, there are some holiday safety basics to keep in mind. Only plug lights into a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlet so that the circuit will shut down if you’ve overloaded it. If you’re a holiday lights fanatic, consider having a professional electrician install one; otherwise, you can opt for portable outdoor units that start at around $20. Even if your lights and extension cords are rated for outdoor use, make sure to keep them above snow, ground, and water. And lastly, avoid stringing lights in trees that touch power lines. The fire department — and the squirrels — will thank you.

Want more reasons to gather together for the holidays? Check out our 31 Days of Party interactive calendar for occasion ideas.