Hot On Austin 2014
Every Christmas season, many of us engage in one of the most dangerous, expensive, frustrating, tedious and time-consuming outdoor tasks of the year; yet it’s part of almost every household’s tradition.
Usually over Thanksgiving weekend, you climb up to the attic, or find that big box under the eaves in the garage, pull it down, then proceed to unwind or untangle a thousand lights. After testing them, you discover you need to run to Lowes or Home Depot and find about five more boxes (who would think of replacing that one burnt out bulb?) so you rush to the store for supplies, including an extra extension cord and clips, just in case.
Now the real fun begins.
My favorite part is always trying to figure out how to hide the string of lights that connect two adjacent shrubs. Ours is always the house that has connector strands lighting up the ground between trees, or drooping between tree branches.
This year Thanksgiving weekend came and went with no light installation. No time to decorate the yard, I got to thinking about having a pro do it instead, so I called up David Prew from Plantscape Solutions and visited with him on one of his installation jobs.
If you’ve been stringing hundred-light strands of incandescent bulbs from the big box stores, you don’t even know what you’re missing. Holiday installations are a serious business. David’s methodical system spanning every step of the installation process would impress even the most persnickety homeowner.
He stores lights in separate bags, each on hand-built wooden reels he provides for each of his customers. He even keeps lights in a temperature controlled building during the year. After measuring each roofline, David then cuts and slices light strands to fit each section of your house. Watching David and his team work assured me that when I was ready to plunk down the cash, I’d be going with a pro like Plantscape Solutions.
Your start-up year is going to cost you more because you’re making an investment in the lights. The smallest jobs start in the first year at around $700, but once you purchase the lights (from David’s top secret source) you can use them forever; even pass them on to the next homeowner when you sell your house.
Differences between professional LED Christmas lights and the cheapies:
- Life of the bulbs – The lights used last 50 thousand hours. If you keep them on between 5 and 11 every night for the Christmas season, that’s about 200 hours. If your house is still standing after 250 years, you totally got your money’s worth in Christmas lights!
- Durability – I watched as David dropped a light against the patio cement floor and it made a clattering sound – like hard plastic, but no breakage. You don’t have to baby the bulbs like incandescent lights.
- Magnetized – Did you know if you have metal near the roofline on your house, you don’t even need clips? Some installations are done via magnets fixed into the solid backing of each bulb. Those perfect lights that look like airport runways are probably installed with magnets, however your aluminum gutters still need clips.
- No fading – the last light on the strand is as bright as the first.
- Efficiency – The cost of electricity is super low because LEDs don’t pull near the power of incandescent, saving significant energy costs from the very first year.
- No extension cords with LEDs — You can string all your lights from one outlet! (link)
The day we talked, Prew’s jobsite was a modern stone home with several parallel rooflines. He cut lengths of lights from a long strand to fit each section, and then securely capped the ends. Hidden connecting cords would be spliced in later after everything was fixed to the house.
“Dangerous job?” I asked. Not this one. “Level roofs are easier to work on because I can get up on the roof and work on solid footing,” Prew said. It’s the jobs where he has to lean a forty-foot ladder to the side of a house and install holiday lights on gabled rooflines…those are the tough ones.
And what about oak tree wraps, the southern favorite way to decorate… what’s the secret? Once again, it’s partially in the technique (tightly wind the lights), and much to do with the quality of the product. “Those tiny LED lights have a conical shape, which allows light to emit in all directions, and display a uniform appearance,” I learned. You can also do an entire tree with a single long strand, with extensions added to decorate the branches.
Well, as it turns out this year we’re sticking with our red and white incandescent lights, enjoying their warm glow and enduring the hassle of setting them up. I’ll chill about the inconvenience, their old-fashioned look (which I still prefer), and even the higher electrical bill this month. I will, however make sure and take Prew’s advice not to use a staple gun on my house. The electricity can zip right through an errant staple and light up your deck – but not in a pretty way.
We’re speeding toward technology that allows us to celebrate holidays with better, brighter, more efficient cheer; but those lights don’t hop on and off our houses by themselves…
Come January, regardless of which type of light you use, someone needs to take them off your house. Will it be you? The take-down part just might clinch the argument for hiring pros to do the job!
– Jen McGahan – Hot On Austin