British Columbia

'Go nuts': Few limits for Christmas lighting choices

A Christmas lighting specialist illuminates the latest options and safety tips for holiday decorating.

Holiday lighting options range from old-school incandescent to laser light show

The newest laser lights feature smartphone control of 'a bunch of fun, blinky modes' and full colour range. (Sterling Eyford/CBC)

When it's time to drag the Christmas lights out of storage — or maybe trade in the old incandescent bulbs for something easier on the hydro bill — the choices can be, well, dazzling.

CBC Victoria associate producer Sterling Eyford set out to demystify the options and gather a few safety tips along the way. 

In a large tent filled with thousands of Christmas lights at the Capital Iron store, he found Jerod MacDonald, a seasonal lighting specialist.

Under the glow of his artificial galaxy, MacDonald offered a rundown on the lighting choices currently available on the market.

Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island illuminated by Christmas lights. (Barbara Cottingham)

What's popular and what's new?

You've got your bog-standard Christmas lights … they connect end-to-end, and you can put a hundred of the things together — go nuts.

Laser projectors … they've been up for a couple of years now. You can control them with a phone. They can show the entire RGB spectrum. You've got about 16 million colour options. It's basically a laser pointer in a housing with a splitter.

So you stab that into your lawn and the whole side of your house is done from two minutes of work.

 Are the old-fashioned screw-in Christmas lights still available?

There are a few people who are refusing to let go, so we've got the big screw-in C9 incandescent type of guys for, you know, an old-school look.

It's actually getting really tricky to import them into Canada. There are not a lot of factories left that bother to get CSA approval.

Annual firefighter's charity Christmas light display in Vancouver. (David Horemans/CBC)

What's the cost of power compared to the old incandescent lighting displays?

It is probably about a factor of 20 cheaper. The old-school C7s are five watts apiece, so an entire string of lights is pulling less energy than one bulb used to.

With the newer LED lights does the entire string go out if one light fails?

That's still a thing. For the most part, they are still wired up in series, so if you get one, half your string dies because it's two half-strings wired together internally. It is possible to fix them. There's a tool you can buy ... usually it's just more work than people want to put in.

Lights from Vancouver's annual firefighter's burn unit charity appeal in Stanley Park. (David Horemans/CBC)

The laser light projectors carry a warning: "Please do not attempt to look into the face of the light." Why?

It's not going to do much damage if you get just a touch. It's just a standard laser pointer amount of power but just split into six thousands little beads.

I've also had people ask, is that going to screw up pilots in airplanes?  I know that's a huge issue, people pointing lasers at them, that will get you arrested right quick.

Try not to point them straight up [and] maybe, just to be nice, try not to make it so it's pointing straight into your neighbour's windows or anything.

It's not going to do any damage, but you know if you've got a green, blinky light flying through your kitchen every second, it's going to be a little annoying.

 Any advice for people who could be distracted by the neighbourhood light shows while driving?

It's the houses where people go totally insane, those are the ones where drivers are going to rubberneck when they go by.

I would say if you're driving, and you see something fancy, pull over to take a look at it, because it's not a good idea to be taking your eyes off the road, especially just for Christmas lights.