How to Make a Mega Christmas Lights Display
Creating a mega Christmas lights display that qualifies for inclusion in the Tacky Lights Tour requires a minimum of 10,000 lights. 10,000 lights is not a challenge once you know how to take advantage of the various outdoor Christmas lights that are available. Whether your primary goal is to raise money for your favorite charity, add some Christmas spirit to the neighborhood or just because you love Christmas lights, we can outline a plan to help you build your ultimate Christmas display. Awards can be won in various fun categories, such as the Miracle on 34th Street award for the classiest lights display, and the Clark Griswold award for Most Likely to be Seen from Space. Regardless of the award you are competing for, there are some basic planning essentials that apply to anyone looking to exceed 10K Christmas lights.
The Christmas Light Planning Essentials
- Have you calculated Christmas lights wattage?
- How many circuits and outlets do you have available for powering your display?
- Familiarize yourself with wiring accessories
- Extension cords
- Bulk wire
- Outlet extensions
- Zip plugs
- Bulb spacing matters
- A decrease in bulb space means an increase in light count! For example: 4" spacing offers more light coverage than 6"
- Know your tree and shrub counts
- Trunk diameter
- Walkway/driveway lengths
- House width
Once you have handled your Christmas lights planning essentials, it is time to start laying out the decorating plan for you new mega Christmas lights display. Are you contending for the Miracle on 34th Street award or the Buddy the Elf (best computerized) award? Light O'Rama and other animated displays with multi channels and dancing displays often exhibit less lights at a single time, resulting in increased light counts while maintaining a classic, relatively minimal or "elegant" light display. Buddy the Elf winners can often reach 100K lights and still appear as tastefully illuminated as a home with tens of thousands less bulbs.
How to Reach 10k in Christmas Lights
A key factor in determining how brightly lit your presentation will be is bulb spacing. The less spacing you place between bulbs, the faster your light count increases in smaller spaces (take note Randy award jockeys) and the brighter your exhibition becomes. Decrease the spacing to achieve the "Seen from Space" award, but increase the spacing to contend for the classiest display.
Bulb spacing plays a role anywhere a string of lights is used. Light strings can quickly begin adding up lights towards the total and are a necessary calculation. So when you draft your design, begin a count for the number of lights you'll require. Measure any available rooflines, walkways, fence lines and driveways; count and measure columns, trees and windows. A two-story home with an attached garage can easily offer up to 400' of lighting opportunity in outlining rooflines, gutters and overhangs. If you choose 6" spacing, you already hit 800 C7 or C9 bulbs. If you are opting for 12" spacing, then you are at 400 bulbs. This is why you can't settle with a basic roof outline when participating in the Tacky Light awards! Hang icicle lights beneath the bulbs to create additional lighting. With 150 bulbs per 9' of icicle light (roughly), you're now nearing 8K lights on your house.
Pick the count up fast with tree wrapping. Choosing a minimal design of just wrapping the trunk and strongest inner branches can quickly get you needing 50-100' of lights. 4-6" spacing in mini light strings is recommended for use on trees, meaning potentially 300 lights per tree. Choose to wrap a few extra branches and you can reach 500 lights per tree. If you have 4 trees, you can easily get to 2K in mini lights.
With this count, you are already at 10K lights, but maybe you don't have all that roof space. Look for bushes to wrap with net lights; each net light can offer up to 150 lights per net. You probably have more bushes than you know, so let's say you have a clean 6 - that is another 960 mini lights.
Remember those 4 trees you wrapped? Well, now you can outline the ground around the trunk with C7 bulbs as well, so plan to wrap a 25' stringer at the base in a nice, big circle. With 12" spacing, you have a cool 100 more bulbs on the ground encircling each tree, or 200 bulbs if you choose 6" spacing. Now take a 100' stringer and outline both sides of the driveway using 6" or 12" spacing here. This results in 200-400 more lights.
The next 1k in lights comes easily enough. Take advantage of windows, porch columns, and any available landscaping around the front and sides of the house. If there are areas of mulch or pine straw, secure stakes with lights and outline these areas like you did the driveway.
Hang LED Light Tubes from Trees
You are now well past 10K, so it's free play from here. Whatever you add now is just frosting on Santa's cookies! Decoration time! Light show trees offer an easy way to increase lights by almost 1K per tree. Or create your own tree using 400 C7 bulbs per tree. Find a branch high enough and sturdy enough to serve as the tip to extend lights as far down and out as you wish. This creates a spectacularly glowing tree of lights that grabs attention even from afar. Consider hanging LED cascading light tubes throughout as well for animated Grand Cascade lights with multiple diodes per tube.
Most rope light Christmas decorations offer 1 bulb spaced within every inch of tubing, so add a few animated holiday motifs to the yard, including Santa on a golf cart, toy trains, and Mrs Claus on a motorcycle. Hang some rope light snowflakes or stars from trees for more brightness. Additional decorations include Starlight Spheres, which offer anywhere from 50-150 lights per ball, and can be placed on the ground, nestled in trees and bushes, hung from tree branches or porch overhangs, and even staked along the walkways or in the garden along with lighted mini Christmas walkway trees. Make a lake bed by laying out a few hundred blue mini or LED 5mm lights on the ground and place a few orange light balls within to serve as koi fish, or add a touch of serenity with some grazing lighted reindeer or a sled, totaling 150-250 lights per grapevine decoration.
Keep in mind that contenders for any Tacky Light awards are going to be the talk of the town and that a lighting ceremony for a mega Christmas lights display may draw plenty of onlookers. Consider adding a makeshift fence line wrapped in mini lights or 15" light stakes with C7 or C9 bulbs to keep admirers on the sidewalk while simultaneously offering additional lighting opportunity. An additional idea is to illuminate arches with light strings, using either existing arbors or crafting materials into the shape of an arch and securing it into the ground.
How to Coordinate Themes and Scenes
Christmas Themed Light Displays
So you want various themes and scenes in your display - you want a candy cane pattern in one area, peaceful blue in another, and traditional red and green in yet another? Not much of a challenge when trying to win at the Uncle Eddie (tackiest) award, but contenders for other awards may want to carefully consider this. First, keep in mind that the Tacky Lights show is for tasteful decorating and not for ugly lights, so definitely focus on transition when choosing multiple designs. Lights that coordinate well together include the primary colors, as well as combining blues, reds, oranges and purples in areas of transition. Do you have natural borders around your lawn, maybe hills or landscape regions that have defining lines around them? You should work with these to stage theme regions. Otherwise craft small lighted fence lines, or use stakes and lights to outline sections. Keep in mind that people love Charlie Brown decorations; it never hurts to incorporate a few characters into your theme if competition for Tacky Light Tour awards in your region is rough.
Perhaps you want to incorporate a scene or light color theme for the Christmas charities you are gathering donations towards. If your charity is a church, hospital, or childrens center, you may want to devote a section to the nativity. Both lighted nativities and traditional nativity scenes can be erected. Outline the stable with rope light or mini lights to keep building light counts. Nativities do well placed near trees and bushes lit with lights. Childrens nativities or decor make a fun charity theme section, and should be placed closer to the streetline to encourage donations and awareness to the cause. Charity donation awareness can be increased with a sign made of rope light or framed in rope light. Place these directly by the donation box, and consider creating a few signs.
How to Handle Power
2011 Buddy the Elf Winner
An acronym for a fast way to be a contender for Most Likely to be Seen from Space: LED. That's right - take your 10K+ mega light display and choose LED technology. Just a piece of advice: ensure the timers turn on at dusk and not darkness. LEDs alone are bright, but by the tens of thousands they are very, very bright. LEDs save incredible amounts of energy and can pretty much eradicate any concerns regarding overloading of circuits or exceeding power limits. If you don't like math and you do like Christmas lights, opt for LED lights. A better way to look at this is the following: A C9 Incandescent bulb = 7-10 watts per bulb, while a C9 LED bulb = 0.96 watts per bulb. That is easy math. LEDs also last significantly longer than incandescent, and their acrylic plastic construction is far more durable than the glass on incandescent bulbs. Consider the light chart provided: using the same count of lights shows only 15% of the watts used by incandescent is used by LED.
To ensure a continuously running display, do the math: map the outlets and circuits, research Christmas lights power consumption, and get in touch with an electrician if the amp capacity exceeds the amps you have available. Understanding Christmas lights wattage and power is essential. Consider SPT2 bulk wire for all C7 and C9 light strings, and stock up on zip plugs (aka vampire plugs) early - these are inexpensive and you fare better to hoard zip plugs than to be unable to locate them when needed. Also stay on top of gathering extra sockets, grounding plugs and outdoor outlets. Keep fuses handy for light strings in the event you miscalculate.
It is never too late to start planning to participate in the Tacky Light Tour, but the longer you wait, the faster you will move when you start laying lights and decorations out. Most lighting ceremonies occur within days of the Thanksgiving holiday. Feel free to alert your local paper so you have a fun turnout with attention brought to your charity idea. Family and neighbors love to partake in large lighting projects, so offer some hot chocolate, play some holiday music, pull out the camera, and don't forget cookies and snacks. You want to sway their votes as well.
Sample Tacky Lighting Plan
Here's a sample plan showing you how to get started with either traditional incandescent lights or energy efficient LED Christmas Lights. On the house, we've listed C9 bulbs and icicle lights on the roof and outlined windows with mini lights. In the yard we've wrapped 4 trees, outlined the yard and built two light trees for a whopping 14K lights. Check out the difference in power - the numbers speak for themselves. So with the LED option, you can get by with two regular household circuits. With incandescents, the power company is going to love you!
|Tacky Lights Plan
|Outline Yard (C9)
|Outline 8 Windows (Mini/5mm, 4" spacing)
|Wrapping 4 Trees (Mini/5mm, 4" spacing)
|2 Light Trees (C7)