Christmas lights deliver holiday magic. Christmas lights make homes inviting. Christmas lights are, suddenly, big business in the Texas Panhandle.
With the holidays approaching—and Christmas lights flying off the shelves—we reached out to Cleat Bell of Jingle Bell Christmas Lights, whose seasonal business will install lights at more than a hundred residences and businesses this season. Bell brings to his work a lot more than a catchy yuletide name or experience with ladders and lightbulbs. He actually graduated from what he calls “a Christmas-light school” in the Metroplex before starting his business 10 years ago. “They showed you all the latest colors, technology and products,” he says. “It was a lot of hands-on experience.”
He’s since built a customer base from Spearman to Plainview, and has had teams installing light arrays since mid-October. For those not leaving the decorating to experts, Bell sheds a little light on his best practices:
Make the switch. If you’re still using incandescent lights, it’s past time to replace that outdated technology. LED lights are safer. They last longer. They are far more efficient. “Yes, incandescents are a lot cheaper, but you have to consider replacement cost year to year. LEDs last forever with proper care and storage,” Bell says. “Also, you can do a whole lot more lighting with LED from a single power source.”
In fact, Bell says homeowners can string together up to 700 feet of C9-size LED lights from a single outlet, compared to around 100 feet of incandescent bulbs. That’s why professional installers use LEDs almost exclusively.
Plan ahead. Don’t just grab a balled-up tangle, climb onto the roof, and start unspooling lights. “Do as much prep work on the ground before you get on the roof or climb a ladder,” Bell says. Unwind the lights. Plug them in. Test the bulbs and make sure they’re secure. Attach roofline clips. “The last thing you want to do is get it all up and then notice something’s wrong,” he says.
Stay organized. Watch for any excess light strands or extension cords hanging off the roofline. Those become easy victims of a strong north wind, explains Bell. “I like to use zip ties to tie cords against a downspout so they don’t flap in the wind or come unplugged.” He also suggests labeling lights upon removal, so you know what goes where next season. “Like ‘this bulb goes in the northwest corner,’ or ‘that goes above the window,’” he says.
Give yourself time. Some aspects of lighting, like wrapping trees, can’t be rushed. “Trees are the most frustrating and expensive thing there is to do because it just takes so much light and because of the wind here,” he says. The wind makes draping lights from branch to branch a bad idea, so most installations involve spiral or branch wrapping. Doing it well requires many, many strands of lights.
Use common sense. Most lighting injuries occur because of impatience, bad gear or inclement weather. First, don’t stand on the top rung of a ladder. “That’s when accidents happen—people reach too far to stretch to put on one more bulb,” Bell says. “You might save 30 seconds by not moving the ladder, or you might spend five hours in the emergency room with a broken arm.”
He won’t allow his teams to hang lights in rainy or snowy weather, because slippery conditions always cause trouble. Also? “Don’t get on the roof with your cowboy boots,” he adds. “Make sure you’re wearing a flat-soled tennis shoe or hiking boots that will grab the shingles and give you a good footing.”
Avoid exposed sockets. A lot of homeowners will loosen a bulb or remove it completely to keep their lighting display nice and neat. Bell says it’s better to remove a socket altogether than to leave an exposed one. If you’re not able to do that, cover any exposed sockets with electrical tape. “Otherwise, you can get moisture in there and the strand could short out,” Bell says. He also advises reading the instructions on a light strand to make sure you haven’t plugged too many lines into a single outlet. “You’ll blow fuses or filaments and then you’ll get frustrated trying to diagnose what’s wrong,” he says.
Consider convenience. The market now boasts plenty of lights or outdoor extension cords that can be powered on and off using a smartphone app. Some bulbs are dimmable or change colors, allowing even more control. But Bell also likes less futuristic technologies. “The old-school, plug-in timers are pretty efficient as far as keeping you from forgetting to turn off or on the lights,” he says.
Over the past few years, most new houses in Amarillo are being built with soffit outlets installed under the roofline. “Nine out of 10 new homeowners won’t know what that switch does in the closet,” Bell says with a chuckle. “That’s probably the switch that turns on the soffit plugs that run the Christmas lights.”