Hanging Holiday Lights

DEAR MIKE: I want to hang Christmas lights around the eaves of my house so St. Nick will be sure to stop by. Please pass on any tips for a successful job. -- Tom C.

DEAR TOM: I'll gladly share some ideas, but please be careful and do this job the right way. That is, don't burn down the house and don't injure yourself.

For a home with eaves, that is, an overhang, I suggest using plastic hangars, which can be purchased at a home center for less than $5. These are small clips that have a nail driven at an angle through them. Nail these to the inside bottom of the fascia board so they can't be seen. If you space them about 18 inches apart, you can get the cord to pull taut and all of the lights will face one direction. This is a very professional look. The other nice thing is that the lights are easy to take down, and next year you can hang them in half the time.

For a home without eaves, you can get the same look by using electrical cable ties, which cost about $3 per bag. These are the same type of ties that police officers use to handcuff criminals. Although the ties are plastic, they are very strong and can be used to cinch the cord.

Without an overhang, however, you won't have the luxury of choosing where to put the cord. If you hang it in the holes in the drip edge of the roof, just pull the cord tight, making sure the lights are facing the direction you want, then tighten it down. The only bummer is that when you remove the lights, you'll have to cut off the ties. If you can't find any holes, use clothespins to hold the cord at the edge of the roof tiles. Of course, the line will not be as tight, though.

Before you break out the extension ladder, the general rule is that the feet of the ladder should be placed a distance away from the wall of 25 percent of the height of the ladder as it rests on the wall. So, if your ladder is 10 feet tall, set the base 2 1/2 feet away from the wall.

A word of caution: When you're up on the ladder, keep your weight centered over it and don't stretch to reach the last hook. Instead, climb down and move the ladder over. I have a neighbor who broke his hip in a fall off a ladder; it could have been prevented if he had just climbed down and moved it.

Some people like to decorate even more and illuminate their garage door with halogen lights. This practice often results in several calls to me for help with electrical problems.

Typically, the only problems are due to circuits that are overloaded. If you're going to use a large display, spread the load over several circuits instead of just one. You'll know a problem exists when a circuit breaker in the main panel trips and shuts off power to the entire circuit.

The electrical outlets you'll use to power the display should be GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) protected. This prevents some dangerous situations by shutting off power when a ground fault is detected. If you'll be using extension cords, inspect them first to make sure they are in good condition and well-insulated. We don't want to frighten any reindeer. 

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