Whether you are channeling Clark Griswold with an exuberant display of outdoor lights or going for a subtle sprinkling of white twinkles, there are a plethora of ways to make your home shine inside and out this Christmas season.
These days, when lighting up your home, always consider LED lights, says Joe Rey-Barreau, associate professor at the University of Kentucky's School of Interior Design and education consultant for the American Lighting Association.
LED lights now outshine the rest, he says. "I remember my wife bought them when they first came out, and the colors weren't very attractive. Now the colors are really quite nice and vivid. And you can buy a string of red lights, blue lights and other colors. There are a lot of different choices, so I would recommend looking at the displays in the stores for ideas."
And what about "if one light goes out, they all go out"? Rey-Barreau says that's no longer a problem. "With LED, that just doesn't happen anymore," he says. LED lights are highly energy efficient, come in a variety of colors and "last literally forever."
"LED lights last 40,000 to 50,000 hours as opposed to (the lights that used to last) 1,000 hours," he says. "They put out very little heat, so there is no danger of them getting hot on the tree. You can use a real tree or an artificial tree." Of course, many artificial trees come pre-lit, so pay attention to what color and type of lights are on the tree you are purchasing.
During the holidays, as always, safety matters, says Rey-Barreau. Always make sure your outside lights are approved for outdoor use. You can do this by checking the packing box or UL listing tag at the end of the string. Those marked "Indoor/Outdoor Use" are safe for outdoor lighting projects. Those marked "Indoor Use Only" should never be used outside.
Lights and decorations that aren't approved for outdoor use can cause premature burnouts, electrical shorts and even fires. Never use staple guns when hanging outdoor lights. They aren't safe and can also damage your roof. Instead, use shingle tabs along the perimeter of your roof or gutter hooks or clips. Clips should never be spaced more than 12 inches apart.
Of course, in any season, a welcoming front door gives a favorable first impression to your visiting family and friends. If you want to add a subtle elegance to your home, consider lighting your wreath be-decked front door.
In fact, sometimes simple is best, says Rey-Barreau. "You can always just change the existing lights on your outdoor fixtures with red or green lights," he says. "Maybe you just want to put a temporary flood light on your house."
Inside you can use lighting to draw attention to a mantel, a centerpiece or simple Nativity scene. Consider changing out lamp shades or adding silver and gold charms (available at many craft stores) to a chandelier. Place portable spotlights in otherwise dark corners.
Or for a very different look, shine lights under an ornament-only decorated Christmas tree to gently light it up and cast shadows from the branches. Remember that these more sophisticated lighting tactics might not work for every family. Always be sure to keep the spotlight out of the way of foot traffic and far enough away from the tree to avoid a fire hazard. Of course, you should keep children and pets away from spotlights.
Rey-Barreau also recommends using dimmers. "Dimmers are ideal for creating that perfect look because they allow for the general lighting to play a supporting role."
No matter whether you are decorating indoors or outdoors, be sure to check the lights before you hang them. If the cords are worn, don't try to patch them; just throw them away and buy new, safe strands of lights.
Bruce Hathaway, national sales manager of the award-winning lighting manufacturer Hubbardton Forge, concludes there is no better time than the holidays to be creative in adding a little splash to your home. In other words, don't be afraid to be creative and give your guests something to talk about.
"This time of year, when there are a lot of festive gatherings, it's all right to break away from a few traditions," Hathaway concludes. "Go ahead and try some new things with lighting and decorating."