Company shares secrets behind festive Christmas lights

Every year, sometime around July, Melissa Christensen will start fielding inquiries from businesses seeking estimates on decking out their businesses with holiday lights.

Melissa Christensen holds a ball of holiday lights, which is easier to wrap around trees. (Photo by B.C. Manion)

Melissa Christensen holds a ball of holiday lights, which is easier to wrap around trees. (Photo by B.C. Manion)

The Lutz woman, who calls herself “The Christmas Light Girl,” works with a crew of up to eight guys, all who have holiday light installations down to a science. The company consists of Christensen, her fiancé Jarrett Lane, his relatives and a friend. They’re busy each year from early November through mid-December.

Christensen can quote jobs ranging from small homes to mansions, from the St. Pete Museum of Fine Arts to Bartow Ford — anywhere around the Tampa Bay area, including Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

Over the years, the installers have learned the tricks of the trade. When planning a lighting display, for example, it’s important to think about the scale of the job, Christensen said. A big tree, for instance, requires more lights, decorations and extension cords.

When figuring out how many lights are needed for a roofline, it’s important to keep in mind the various setbacks on the roof, she said.

It’s also essential to have enough extension cords and timers for each job. It’s easy to underestimate the number of timers that are needed to achieve the desired effect, she said.

At a house the company decks out each year in Odessa, for instance, the job requires nine timers.

While some people use multicolored lights, others prefer clear ones. One winning look involves clear lights, combined with splashes of color for effect, Christensen said.

Her company uses that approach on palm trees. It wraps the trunks in clear lights and then uses a green band of lights at the top of trunk, just below the fronds.

The average tree requires 150 feet to 200 feet of lights. Trying to deck out the fronds can get a bit pricey, Christensen explained.

“Fronds tend to get expensive because you usually have to have a lift. So, the green band on top is a good alternative to getting your color on your palms,” she said.

It’s a good idea to shop around for lights because prices can vary widely, Christensen said. Decorating trees can go anywhere from $50 to $250, depending on the type and size of tree.

Commercial light strands are available at places like Lowe’s and Home Depot, but also can be purchased online. The strands are typically 132 feet for incandescent lights, and 67 feet for light-emitting diodes.

“LEDs are just a spot of light,” Christensen said. “They do not glow or illuminate. If you really want illumination, then you need to stick with the incandescents.”

However, the LEDs do have one big advantage: They last longer.

It’s also important to expect lights to fail.

“It’s usually one of two things: Either you’re missing a bulb, or the squirrel chewed through the wire,” she said. To help spot outages, Christensen’s company uses “stay lits.” If a light goes out, she loses half of the strand, which helps her identify the problem spot.

To help prevent failures, she recommends taping over extension cord plugs to keep water from seeping in. She also said it’s advisable to alert landscaping crews, so they turn off the sprinklers and avoid running equipment over cords.

It’s also a good idea to tape down any cords that are running across walkways, to prevent a tripping hazard.

For those decorating a tree, Christensen does offer a tip: Roll the strand of lights into a ball. Then unroll it as the tree is wrapped the tree.

“It saves a lot of time. It makes it a lot more manageable,” she said. “It allows you to keep your lines tight. It makes it easier than trying to pull the wire through each time you go around.”

Installing lights keeps the company busy for about six solid weeks, Christensen said, but she enjoys the work.

She also delights in seeing a finished job.

“Lights are awesome,” she said.

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