Decorating the yard or the exterior of your home with Christmas decorations is a wonderful way to welcome your guests and make them feel the magic of the season.
Artificial wreaths and garlands, artificial trees, and Christmas lights are some of the most basic items used for outdoor Christmas decorating. They are attractive, versatile, and available in virtually any color combination to match every style of holiday décor.
Depending on their quality and quantity, these items can constitute a fair amount of expense, so it's important to purchase the right type of decorations to meet all your outdoor decorating needs. We've put together five important questions you should ask yourself before making an actual purchase that will save you both money and time this holiday season.
1. What is my Budget?
Choose an outdoor theme: Having a specific decorative theme gives your outdoor display a unified and harmonious look and helps determine the spending budget. In some cases, an elegant, minimalist, or modern design may require fewer embellishments than a cottage, traditional, or winter wonderland theme, the former of which could save you money by eliminating the need to purchase multiple decorations to complete the look. For more ideas on how to decorate your porch, take a look at our article on Christmas door decorating.
Decide what decorations you'll need: After selecting a theme, make a list of the items you'll need to successfully achieve the look. Check the list against the items you already have that may be re-used. Combining new pieces with decorations you already own is convenient and practical, as well as economical.
Determine the scale of your display: Think about how grand you want your display to be. Some Christmas enthusiasts display a fantastic amount of exterior decorations, but don't feel pressured or obligated to compete with ostentatious exhibits. Budgets should be scaled up or down according to individual tastes, preferences, or circumstances. Having special guests, such as long absent family members or new grandchildren, are rare occasions that may call for something more extraordinary.
Factor in electrical consumption: Outdoor Christmas décor with lights can significantly impact the monthly electrical bill. Installing outdoor lights with a timer helps keep electricity costs down, and adds a layer of safety by preventing possible overheating.
2. Where Will the Decorations be Placed?
Consider Exposure to the Elements
Most artificial wreaths and garlands are designed to endure water, wind, snow, and sunlight (within reason, of course!) They are assembled with a supportive wire frame to make them sturdy, however, it's typically best to mount these decorations in covered areas, such as a roofed porch, to prevent them from getting accidentally knocked off by heavy snowfall or strong wind.
Generally, Christmas lights with a red Underwriters Laboratories (UL) label are suitable for outdoor use. A UL listing indicates that the product meets nationally recognized safety requirements against foreseeable fire and shock hazards.
The Allegheny Evergreen Outdoor Tree is specially designed for outdoor use. Aside from its UV-coated needles and heavy gauge wire branches, this tree comes equipped with guide wires and stakes to secure it against any wind, rain, or snowfall that may occur.
Consider Accessibility to an Electrical Outlet
Many prelit wreaths and garlands come with 30-inch electrical cords. For decorations positioned too far away from an exterior electrical outlet, extension cords may be used, provided they are compatible with the lights and are rated safe for outdoor use.
Take the time to check the electrical sockets as well. These should feature a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) that accepts three-pronged plugs. A GFCI outlet shuts off power when it senses a short circuit. Consult an electrician if these need to be installed.
If you have a large lawn, a power stake may be useful for reaching decorations mounted on the fence or in the garden area. Safe and convenient, many of these stakes come with three outlets, protective covers, and timer functions.
If the presence of electrical cords seems too inconvenient or messy, consider getting battery-operated wreaths and garlands. Many models come equipped with a built-in timer to conserve battery life. Alternatively, an unlit wreath or garland can be decorated with battery-operated light strands.
3. What is the Weather in my Area?
Consider Heat and Humidity
Artificial wreaths and garlands are made of materials that can withstand moderate amounts of heat and humidity. However, in some rare cases, the excessive heat and humidity in tropical areas may cause the color of some ornaments, such as artificial fruits, to run and stain adjacent surfaces. Spraying a UV-protective spray, available in hardware or craft stores, on these ornaments may help prevent this sort of discoloration.
Normal operation naturally consumes the filaments inside incandescent Christmas lights. However, operating in areas with high levels of heat and humidity can accelerate the deterioration of filaments even more, causing lights to break faster.
Consider the Amount of Sunlight
White-colored wreaths, garlands, and trees are vulnerable to the sun's UV-radiation which causes white foliage to turn yellow. In extreme cases, even indoor green artificial trees may fade in color if positioned beside a sunny window for the entire season. Christmas trees made for outdoor use are specially treated with a UV-resistant coating to protect against fading and cracking.
Consider the Average Snowfall
Most artificial wreaths and garlands are manufactured with durable materials and a weatherproof coating allowing them to tolerate environments that experience average snowfall.
Incandescent Christmas lights become hotter the longer they are used. Cold snow can also cause these lamps to burst. It's best to limit the operating time of these lights.
Consider the Average Rainfall
The foliage of artificial wreaths and garlands will stand the occasional rain shower. Avoid using wreaths and garlands with small pieces and detailing that may get blown away or knocked off.
UL-listed outdoor lights will be able to put up with light to moderate rainfall. As a precaution, remember to switch off and unplug Christmas lights when it rains. Cold rain can cause hot incandescent bulbs to burst. LED lights are cooler and more resistant to leaks than incandescent lights. Switching lights off during a rainy spell reduces unnecessary electrical risks.
4. Are These Decorations Designed for Outdoor Use?
Look for the UL Label
To determine whether a set of lights or prelit décor is designed for outdoor use, check the UL label. Lights with a green holographic UL sticker on the cord are suitable only for indoor use. A red holographic UL sticker means the product is safe for both indoor and outdoor use.
Weatherproof Your Decorations
When a snow or rain storm is looming, there are several ways to protect outdoor light decorations. Switch off and unplug lights and prelit décor, then cover them with a tarp or durable plastic sheet. Elevate or remove extension cord outlets from the ground to prevent water from reaching them.
Rain can pose a risk even if exterior lights are plugged into indoor sockets. Make sure to inspect the ceilings, floors, and walls around the sockets to ensure there are no leaks or pooling water that may short out circuits or cause electrical shock.
5. How Long Will These Decorations Last?
Lifespan of Wreaths, Garlands, and Trees
The foliage on high-quality artificial wreaths and garlands can last 7-10 years with proper use and storage. The lights on prelit models, however, may need to be replaced every three years due to normal wear and tear.
An outdoor artificial tree has to contend with harsher environments, so its lifespan is approximately 5-7 years under normal use. Always check the manufacturer's manual or website for a product's warranty period.
Lifespan of Outdoor Christmas Lights
Many factors can affect the life expectancy of outdoor Christmas lights. Aside from drastic changes in temperature, rain, snow, or humidity, factors such as improper usage, handling, and storage can all contribute to a shortened life span.
Under ideal conditions, indoor incandescent lights have a projected lifespan of up to 2,000 hours. For outdoor incandescent lights, however, it's not uncommon to start replacing bulbs after about half that time. LED lights, although more expensive, are rated to last about 20,000-30,000 hours under normal use.
Pro Tip: Wise homeowners understand the value of high-quality items. Instead of pouring money into a large volume of low-priced, low-quality Christmas decorations, consider investing in about 3-4 premium pieces to complement existing decor. Products covered with a lengthy warranty often last longer, ensuring that they can be re-used and enjoyed for many years.
A beautiful outdoor Christmas display is an enchanting way to express your family's enthusiasm for the holiday season. By asking yourself these five questions, you can rest assured you'll end up with the best outdoor decorations that will bring your most festive and heartfelt image of Christmas to life.