Bright ideas for that Winter Wonderland

Expert offers tips on outdoor holiday displays

by Christoper Bennett - The Freeman see the full news post

BROOKFIELD — Everyone thinks they know how to decorate the exterior of their home for the holidays. Buy some lights, slap ’em up and plug ’em in and retreat to the hearth to enjoy some sort of holiday nog.

You are missing out and wasting time if this is your idea of a light display.

Todd Ruedt lives for the holidays and outdoor decorating. Ruedt, owner of Grounds Maintenance Services in New Berlin, added exterior holiday decoration to his business offerings seven years ago. Grounds Maintenance Services is in its 15th year in business.

“I enjoyed doing it so much at my own property,” Ruedt said. “I started to get the need from customers to install their materials for them. Being that I enjoyed the season so much, I couldn’t say no.”

Ruedt said much of his holiday decorating customer base is elderly residents, those in higher-end homes and those who lack the time to decorate.

Ruedt also offered some simple tips based on his years of expertise for those who wish to relax by the hearth and bask in the warm glow of a job well done.

Keep it simple, safe

Ruedt said the trend in outside lighting in recent years favors simple, clean lighting that is typically one or two colors.

“Roof line lighting is one of the hottest items that most people ask for,” Ruedt said.

Roof line lighting does a fine job highlighting a home’s architectural features and leads to some stunning visuals. Ruedt said wrap lighting of trees and shrubs is also popular.

Once a decision is reached regarding looks, consider personal limitations. Ask yourself what you are capable of doing.

“Consider how much you want to do, and what are you capable of doing, ladder-wise and safety-wise,” Ruedt said. “That’s where it all starts.”

Do not overlook safety. Use a good ladder. Do not work alone if you are working with a ladder, and be sure the ladder is sitting on steady ground. If you need to reach or strain, it is time to move the ladder. As always, the top step is not actually a step.

At this point, Ruedt advises drawing a simple map or layout of what you want to do. Take measurements.

“When I say measurements, there are very easy calculators on the Internet to calculate how much you need in lights for a tree or a shrub,” Ruedt said.

Measurements also means considering how much cord you need and how many timers you might need, and where your electric outlets are positioned.

Regarding electricity, check what else feeds into the circuit breaker on which you intend to plug in your lights. Do not overload the circuit. If you go gung-ho with holiday lighting you might even consider a separate circuit breaker.

Make sure your lights are compatible — that you are not trying to use LEDs with non-LED lighting, for example.

Once your idea is refined, be sure you own what it is you want to put on your home Buy devoted extension cords and timers for your outside lights. Be sure they are rated for outdoor use and the amount of power you intend to use.

Consider pruning trees and shrubs before wrapping them with lights. Trees and shrubs might suffer damage when lights are removed if not previously pruned.

Test your lights. Plug them in on the ground. Make sure they work. Being aloft on a ladder is not the time to learn of a bad string.

Get a head start

Don’t be afraid to mount your decorations before the snow flies and the winds turn cold. You can wait and plug in your display when the time is right. Ruedt and his crews will start installing decorations in November.

After all this preparation, you can start hanging lights. Again, safety first.

Special clips can be purchased at the hardware store that attach the lights to the gutter or shingles and will not cause damage. Ruedt said zip ties and twist ties also work well, and a permanent connection might also be considered.

Pay attention to the clip’s weight rating. Clip the lights on the string on the ground before getting on your ladder.

Ruedt advises against taping connections together.

“There’s a lot of talk about taping ends of connections and taping two connections together,” Ruedt said. “It causes circuits to pop more than anything else because it retains moisture.”

Point your connections down, away from the sky, and protect them as best you can. Once mounted, this is the point at which you enjoy your holiday lights.

Removal is the reverse of installation. Again, safety first. This cannot be stressed enough. Ruedt said more people die than you might expect each year in ladder-related accidents.

You can leave lights up indefinitely if the weather is not to your liking. Ruedt’s crews start disassembling their handiwork in early January.

“When you go to take the display down, make sure it’s labeled for next year’s installation,” Ruedt said. “Put a tag on the lights or use tape with a marker.”

Putting labels on lights ensures you know where to start next year. Clean and inspect everything during disassembly. After-Christmas sales are an excellent time to replenish damaged stock.

Also, keep everything together. Store the cords and timers and lights together and use the equipment only for the holidays.

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