Outdoor Christmas lighting hacks?
November 25, 2017 12:48 PM   Subscribe

It turns out that due to reasons we are especially short on time, but had originally hoped to step up our outdoor Christmas lighting game this year. Does anyone have outdoor lighting hacks they would like to share? Preferences and limitations within.

For the past few years all we have done for outdoor lighting is:
  • Lighted 10 foot Christmas tree visible through front picture window
  • Lighted 3 foot wreath hanging from porch
  • Strings of colored mini lights on bushes and a short tree out front
  • Garland and some more mini lights on porch railing
Preferences and limitations:
  • Budget for new lights/equipment roughly $200 - $300, and I assume that also leaves out having a company/service do it for us. One possibility might be to begin this year on a plan that we would extend future years (LED light strings maybe? I know nothing about them yet).
  • My wife doesn't like lights projecting onto the house, nor the inflatable decorations
  • I'm not a ladder guy, and as I said, time is limited to the few remaining weekends, so that leaves out much of what I see other neighbors doing
  • Excluding the driveway, we have a modest size front lawn, roughly 35 feet by 20 feet.
Ideally it would be great if folks could recommend something I could get at a local box store or Amazon so my time would be devoted to the actual decoration as opposed to finding the supplies.

If it matters, this is USA Philadelphia area, so freezing temperatures, snow and ice likely but not guaranteed.

My pre-post research seemed to find advice more than 6 years old, budget hacks, lighting timers/controls, solar power, indoor or non-lighting hacks, those requiring outline of the roof in lights, etc. but I know I didn't read the whole Internet.

Thanks in advance.
posted by forthright to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you have one lighted Christmas tree decoration in the yard, you could add two more lighted tree decorations. A grouping of three adds more drama. I would focus on ideas that add big impact and drama. If you buy little random things they might not be as appealing curbside. Matching and sticking to a color scheme is eye-catching, as is symmetry. Flank your front door with potted evergreens and string them with LED copper solar lights. You can buy them on Amazon in the $10-$14 range.
posted by loveandhappiness at 1:35 PM on November 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'd put money into switching to LEDs. They're more expensive but you use so much less electricity and they're less finicky. That means you'll be able to add more in coming years without blowing circuits or a huge electric bill. And they tend to last.

To impress: really do your non-conifer trees well - wind them nicely and really get to the tips of the branches. Ditto shrubs: get an even coverage. Keep your color scheme relatively simple.

note: the pro grade lights are worth it in the long run. You said you don't want to go that route but I wanted to let you know that there is a difference.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:20 PM on November 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Do you have a walkway of some sort? If so, consider lining it with something lighted, like these candy canes (just the first illustrative item I found on Amazon; I've seen similar at hardware stores, too). Lighted walkways make the whole space look a little extra magical, which is the whole point of holiday lights to me.

You're also missing my one must-have holiday light decoration: window candles. You can get them in singles (I do recommend these specific ones, I've got a set that has lasted for years) or in a more elaborate candelabra style. If you don't get the ones I linked, be sure to look for battery-operated and auto-on-and-off ones for minimal fuss. They're a small, simple thing that have a high impact to the overall look of inviting holiday cheer.

And I know you said lighting, but don't discount decorations that make the place look amazing during the day, too. My stepdad went all out every year when I was a kid and our house always won Best Daytime Decorations in the neighborhood contest. My favorite part was wrapping the white porch posts with wide red ribbon, making them look like candy canes. We also had a huge wreath on the front door, big red bows on the exterior of the house, and (the one thing I felt was too far, but YMMV) smaller weraths on each of the windows.
posted by rhiannonstone at 2:28 PM on November 25, 2017

Get color-cycling solar-powered uplights like these to shine on your bushes and tree, if you can angle them so they don't shine on the house. Bonus: Buy large foam snowflakes such as these, glue aluminum foil to them to make them shiny, and hang them with fishing line in front of the colored uplights. That's what we used to do in our front yard when I was a kid (only my father cut out plywood snowflakes with a jigsaw and used more powerful red and green spotlights).

Alternately: Pick up something like this faux-neon LED snowflake at Target.
posted by limeonaire at 2:39 PM on November 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Clarifications (sorry for my confusing wording):
  • the 10 foot tree visible through the picture window is in our living room, visible from our driveway (so it kind of counts as outdoor lighting),
  • the short tree in our yard is a live tree, by short I meant not something large, and so I am able to decorate it with just a step-ladder (at least the lower branches)
loveandhappiness: thanks for the advice about avoiding miscellaneous items and instead going for bigger impact (along with symmetry and color).

sciencegeek: I'm not sure I am clear on the difference between LED lights (I believe my strings are new enough they are LED) vs. what I see advertised sometimes as Rope LEDs which I gather involve transformers and wiring, etc. (???).

rhiannonstone: Yes, we have a walkway from the driveway with walkways lights, so candy canes is a good idea (I could turn off the plain walkway lighting for effect). As for windows, we have that big picture window, a transom over the door (which I don't think would hold a candle, plus there's the big lighted wreath next to the door). But yes, we could put a candle or 3 in the standard size window next to the driveway entrance.

limeonaire: interesting, those lights you linked to are similar to what I put in our rear garden, but they were just white lights, and buying one or two sets of those would be quite inexpensive. I also very much like that LED snowflake at Target.

Thanks for all the advice so far, I would welcome more.
posted by forthright at 4:35 PM on November 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

LED is just the kind of bulb. They still sell both LED and incandescent mini lights, so yours being recently purchased doesn't really tell you what kind of bulbs you've got. If your lights had been older, they would have much more likely been incandescent.

The front page of Christmas Lights Etc shows both kinds and will give you an idea of what incandescent looks like. Their website also has some fairly clearly written articles on how to do lights.

(Rope lights come in both LED and incandescent. )
posted by sciencegeek at 3:28 AM on November 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you are going to put candles in the windows, put one in every window of the house, please.
posted by sarajane at 4:28 AM on November 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: OK, front page, looks like I've got some studying to do, thanks for the links!

sarajane, your comment made me realize that, in my original question, I should have linked to an image of my house lit with Christmas lights from last year. Head palm. But as you can see, my windows that can hold candles are limited. Those on the right above the garage are vertical crank-out windows, but I could put a multi-candle in the single window below them.

I appreciate your help and patience.
posted by forthright at 9:29 AM on November 26, 2017

I'd find someone who is willing to put in the hooks and the lights to outline your roofline. That would be the biggest transition from what you have from last year. Unfortunately, I think it will break your budget unless you can find a neighborhood college kid to do it. If you have a neighborhood college kid who does housepainting during the summers, that's the one to ask.

I think you can do the outline of your porch yourself and extend that line across to go over your garage without any crazy ladder shenanigans. I go back and forth on how I feel about icicle lights, but they do give you a lot of light for limited effort to hang them.

The outside tree can be done better - get a nice even wrap on the trunk and then focus on outlining branches neatly.
posted by sciencegeek at 10:29 AM on November 26, 2017

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