There’s plenty to learn about lighting your home for the holidays before pulling out your ladder.
Television design expert and principal designer at Oakville, Ont.-based design firm Khachi, RAMSIN KHACHI illuminates us with how to get the job done—stress and mishap-free.
Let’s face it—lighting up your home for the holidays is supposed to be festive, but the task always seems to be accompanied by stress. (Yes, we’re thinking about Clark Griswald’s 25,000 Christmas lights, too.) The good news is that with a little planning and some strategy, you can get amazing results without stapling yourself to your roof. Here are some key rules to follow.
FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU WANT TO LIGHT
Lighting the exterior of your house shouldn’t be a competition to see who in your neighbourhood can use the most wattage of energy. First, figure out exactly what you want to light, and then how much. Stand and look at the elevation of your home. Identify key architectural details that are worth highlighting, then take a look at other elements—think eaves, trees, railings, columns and bushes. You can even snap and print a photo of the front of your house and use a highlighter to identify what to light. This will help you maintain a balance on the façade.
One of my favourite lighting systems is the Philips Hue. The company recently launched a new suite of Hue products, including landscape lights and outdoor strip lights that offer colour selection, timing and intensity all through an easy-to-use app, or via your favourite home assistant (Alexa, Google or Apple HomePod). This lets you to keep your outdoor architectural lighting ready to go all year, and you can program the system to change colours over the holidays.
START WITH THE BASICS
For my home, I like layers of decorative lights that accent the façade. Choose spotlights to highlight stone walls, bay windows and your front entrance, for example. This can be done with a simple landscape lighting system that runs on a transformer with a built-in timer. To figure out where the light sources should go, walk around your property at night with a high-powered flashlight and test light locations.
BRING ON THE BLING
Get rid of all those old incandescent lights—it’s time to buy LED strands. There are many types on the market, from individual runs to woven net styles and even projectors. They’re more efficient than older versions, and you can strand more on each circuit. As for how many you’ll need, the rule of thumb is you almost always need more lights than you think. (For example, railings and columns usually need double what you’d anticipate, and trees will need triple.)
I recommend leaving eaves and fascia lighting to professionals, since climbing up and down ladders and trying to install lights and run wires creates a greater potential for mishaps and injuries. When lighting trees, start at the top and work your way down (don’t forget the trunk). Nets work well on smaller trees and bushes, while strands are better for larger trees. It’s all about volume here—the more twinkle lights the better. You can use extension cords while you light each element, then stand back, squint and look at what you just installed. This will help identify areas that are missing lights and help you balance each section as you install.
Use clips, zip ties and craft wire to secure lights. I use 3M picture hangers to secure strands around windows—they’re super easy to use and don’t do damage. (Remember, everything will be taken down in a couple of months, so it’s all about temporary fixes and ease.) Once each element has been strung with wires and you’re happy with the look, run your power lines. I install multiple receptacles outside my house in strategic areas so that all my Christmas lights run off switched circuits that I can control from inside. (Bonus: This means you don’t need as many extension cords.)
If you plan on installing holiday lighting every year, it makes economic sense to have an electrician install a few dedicated circuits outside. An average outdoor receptacle circuit can handle about 1,400 watts—that’s a lot of LED lights, assuming nothing else is running on that circuit. However, you’ll still need to ensure that the total wattage of the strands on each circuit does not exceed the capacity of that circuit. (So, if each string of lights uses 10 watts, a dedicated circuit outside could handle a total of 140 strings.)
MY BEST ADVICE?
Follow the instructions on the box of lights when grouping strands. When you run extension cords, make sure they’re rated for outdoor use. I use dark green cords because they’re less conspicuous when running them in flowerbeds. I use tent pegs to hold them in place. To do this, insert the peg into the dirt and use the hook end to hold the cord in place. Here’s what’s not to do: Never pierce the casing of an extension cord, don’t cut off the ground pin on the end of the cords, and if the cords show any damage, replace them. If you plug extensions cords into each other, protect the connections using Twist and Seal’s Cord Protector.
When you plug the lights into the cords, use outdoor post terminals— these allow you to safely plug several lights into one extension. For areas that are difficult to wire, such as the wreath on your front door, opt for battery-powered LEDs to make your life easier. If all this work is bringing out your inner Grinch, why not invest in a few projector units to create a light show on the façade of your home. It’s an easy, beautiful solution.
CONTROL YOUR SHOW
Turning your lights on and off can be as simple as installing an outdoor timer. I prefer to use automation, and I find using a Wi-Fi-enabled switch that can operate the outdoor receptacles is the best way to go. Systems such as Leviton Decora Smart enable you to customize the operation of your lights from a simple phone app. You can turn them on and off from anywhere in the world, or tell Alexa to do it for you. Best of all, you can pre-program operation times so you can enjoy the holidays with one less to-do on your list. BH&L
WORDS Ramsin Khachi