Deck the house with Christmas lights.

Deck the house with Christmas lights.

Decorating the house with lights is a great way for families to get into the Christmas spirit but there is a lot of time and effort needed for parents to initially set up Christmas light displays, and it is even more difficult to do it in a creative and visually attractive way, especially when there are so many other shopping and organising tasks that are required at Christmas, which often deters many parents from attempting it at all.

But regardless of whether parents are thinking of setting up Christmas lights for the first time or if they already live on a street that elaborately decorates with Christmas lights every year and just want a fresh look for 2011 without spending too much money, there are several ways to tackle the daunting process of decking out the house in lights. We asked owner of My Christmas store Nicole Keleher and designer and stylist at Showpony Studios Jane Frosh for some holiday-decorating tips to suit all families.

STYLING

- For inspiration for first timers, drive to one of the neighbourhoods in your city that has a street display every year or check out the professional commercial Christmas displays in shopping centres to help you figure out what colours and themes you like.
Nicole says: “Two of the elements used regularly in these environments are garlands and wreaths. Use one large lit wreath at the front of your home, or string garlands around your doorway for a classic look.”

- For families who want something understated and simple take a less-is-more approach.
Jane says: “You can definitely run the risk of having the facade of your house appear tacky by piling on loads and loads of lights or having giant Santa’s, reindeer, candy canes, Christmas trees. Personally, I think a small string of neutral or amber toned fairy lights across the front porch, or scattered through a feature tree is classier.”

- For families who set up Christmas lights every year, you can go for a new look by changing around where you use your lights.  For example if you use a set of lights fed through a tree one year, the next year the same lights could be strung across the front porch instead.
Jane says: “Mix up your colour schemes a little, using a 2 colour palette, or amber and pastels, or good old classic white light and just stick with classic, elegant concepts.”

- Once you’ve decided on a theme and colour scheme, before shopping for lights be sure to measure the areas of the house and yard that are to be decorated, including along eaves, rooflines, windows, posts, door frames, driveways and pathways, as well as trees, shrubs, bushes, hedges, and around focal points such as birdbaths and mailboxes. Note both the length and height as well as the distance from the decorating site to the location of the power sources. And when you finally do go shopping, remember to purchase any extra tools you may need to help get the job done such as ladders, extension cords that are suitable for outdoor use and hooks and clamps to hold lights in place.
Nicole says: “Consider how you are going to get power to the area you wish to decorate.  The transformer and function box must be protected from the weather.  If you can't get power to your lights there are now some good solar light options available as well.”

ENERGY CONSERVATION AND SAFETY

- If you want to save money, consider shopping for lights before the holiday season starts. The retail industry usually starts focusing on Christmas gifts sales/purchases around October-November but keep an eye out for mid-year or post-Christmas sales at Christmas warehouses and search online as well, particularly at websites such as ebay but check that the products are safe and are rated to Australian standards before you buy.
Nicole says: “If you and your neighbours are all considering adding new lighting displays, try and shop together and ask for a discount for the bulk buys.”
 
- When you are ready to shop, decide which lights are going to be most beneficial for your energy allowance and to avoid having an enormous electricity bill at the end of the holiday season. There are 3 main types of Christmas lights – incandescent lights, LED lights and fibre-optics and out of all these, LED lights are the most modern and best value for money, even though they are slightly more expensive than incandescent lights, because they are more durable and last much longer before burning out, and are more affordable than fibre optics.
Nicole says: “Always try and buy quality LED lights. It’s better to buy one set of good lights than multiple sets of lights that won't last more than a season.”

- Turn on your lights only when it’s dark outside and then set a timer for them to go off at a certain time before daylight without having to wake up to do it during the night.
Jane says: “Good old timers are a great way to conserve energy and money. By using LED lighting and then adding a timer, you are already a giant step ahead.”

The following guidelines from Fire Protection Association Australia can help people stay safe when setting up:

Christmas lights:
• Only use transformers and decorative lights that have Australian Standards approval
• Don’t use damaged or broken switches, power points, plugs or leads.
• If you are reusing Christmas lights, check their condition and replace any broken bulbs with those specified in the manufacturer’s instructions.
• Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when setting up your lights.
• Don’t overload your power points or power boards and avoid piggy-backing double adaptors.
• Use weather proof, energy efficient transformers that generate low heat.
• Attach cords and lighting strings to fixtures with tape, cable ties, clips or clamps. Never use nails.
• Keep all electrical connections away from areas that may become wet.
• If there is no safety switch fitted to your home, use a portable one at the supply.
Jane says: “Around Christmas time, there are about 300 light-related fires across the country, but this risk is greatly reduced when LED’s are used. And they are also cool to the touch, making them safe for little fingers too!”

DECORATING

- When you begin to hang the lights, start at the highest point where the lights will be and work your way down. To further simplify things, choose lights that cover large areas such as:

1) Fairy lights – These twinkly lights in single colour or multi colours can be draped around and across many surfaces and on top of one another for a multi-layered look.

2) Icicle lights – These are long strings of lights with many different drop lights coming off each string that can be dangled from heights for an interesting effect.

3) Net and blanket lighting options and curtain lights are great for covering entire shrubs and bushes as a ‘wall of lights’.

4) Rope lights are cords of bulbs that are ideal for easy attachment when outlining unusual shapes and areas like archways.

5) Battery operated lights are perfect for hard to reach areas where access to a powerpoint is not possible such as atop a roof.

6) Stand alone and decorative lights in Christmas shapes such as Christmas trees, stars, Christmas greetings such as Merry Christmas, Santas and strings of candy canes or bows can be great to include amongst framing lights. Try and choose just one as a feature rather than having multiple things that will all compete for attention.

Nicole says: “Take a photo of your house on your mobile phone into the store with you and the staff may be able to guide you with good decorating options.”