How to add outlets for Christmas lights

There’s an iconic scene in the classic holiday movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation where homeowner Clark Griswold takes down the local power grid when he turns on home’s overly ambitious Christmas lights. While, in the real world, Clark’s circuit breakers would have tripped long before his town’s nuclear power plant went into overdrive, this famous scene serves as a reminder that the spectacular Christmas light displays of the holiday season—whether real or fictional—require electricity.

Whether you’re planning a Griswold-esque display that will light up the night, or something a little more restrained, now’s the right time to start thinking about whether or not you have enough outlets in the right places.

In this article, we’ll review the reasons why you might need more outdoor outlets for Christmas lights and why you’ll need the electricians at Wagner to help you install them. Let’s dive in.

Do I need more outlets?

Since adding more outlets takes time and work, most homeowners opt for what seems like a much easier solution—stringing light strands together and leading them a single outlet (and circuit) to wherever they need to be hung. If you’re the type who just puts up a strand or two on the eaves of your home, that’s probably fine. But, if you have something more substantial planned, you’ll need to start thinking about the amps for each light string or fixture you’re adding. You can find the amperage rating of your lights on either the box or the tag.

If you’re really opposed to adding outlets, be sure to buy LED Christmas lights. LEDs use far less energy than most other types of lights, which means you can string more of them from a single circuit. However, they’re also available in far less colors and styles, which might interfere with your grand designs for your home’s Christmas decor. If you’re planning on making your home visible from space—figuratively speaking, of course—no amount of LEDs can make up for the fact that you’re going to need to split the power load across multiple circuits and multiple outlets.

What happens if I connect too many lights to a single circuit?

Our modern homes feature a critical safety feature that not only protects your home from the danger of a fire, but gives you a firm warning that you’ve taken your decorating too far: the circuit breaker. If your lights are tripping your breaker, you need to stop and reconsider how much you’re drawing on that outlet and its associated circuit. One thing to keep in mind is that most default outdoor outlets are on the same circuit as several indoor outlets. If your Christmas lights are competing with your TV and your internet router for electricity, your overall pool of available capacity on the circuit is going to be lower.

If you have tripped your breaker, that’s a good time to call our team of electricians and have us help you assess the best way to safely plug in all your lights. Adding a new outdoor outlet on a different, less-used circuit might be the right way to go. Or, we might need to upgrade your circuit panel to handle a larger load. If you’re committed to your lighting plans, we’ll find a way to make it happen—without compromising the fire safety of your home.

Related: Signs you need to upgrade your electrical panel

Adding Outdoor Outlets

As much as some homeowners like to dress up the inside of their home for the holiday season, this is by far what most are talking about when they say they plan to hang “Christmas lights.” In some neighborhoods, light displays take on a life of their own, becoming truly magical and immersive experiences for both the family that lives in the home and those passing by. There are even some homes that become local attractions because of their owner’s serious commitment to lighting and decoration.

Whether you’re planning to go all-out or you’re looking to be a little more modest with your decorations, you’ll need something that all lights require: electricity. Truth is, most homes here in Albuquerque were not designed with holiday lighting in mind, which means there might not be a single electrical outlet where you really need it at the front of your home. Even if there is, it’s just one outlet, and it’s on the ground level—unless you want to also string an extension cord, that doesn’t do much for your second story and / or roof lighting. If you’re committed to your Christmas light plans, you need more outlets in better, more easily accessible places.

As with installing indoor outlets, adding outdoor outlets is a complex project that requires the help of a professional, licensed electrician. If anything, outdoor outlets are even more complicated than indoor outlets because they need to be routed through the exterior surface of the home (such as stucco) and be built in such a way that the outlet is protected from the elements.

Let’s talk about that routing, because it’s often not easy. Unlike many of your interior walls, the exterior walls of your home are lined with insulation that you’ll need to safely navigate in order to connect your outlet (the thing on the outside of your home) to the wiring inside. As with all electrical work, there’s a significant risk that comes with doing this wrong, which is the primary reason why you want to bring in a professional to handle this job.

You’ll also want to up your budget for Christmas decorations accordingly. According to data collected by the website, the average cost of installing an outdoor electrical outlet is between $250-$400, with some projects running higher than that if substantial new wiring is involved. That’s about double the cost, on average, of installing an indoor outlet.

Watch: How to install an outdoor electrical outlet

Watch this video from The Home Depot for a walkthrough of how an outdoor electrical outlet is installed.

Add a call to Wagner to your holiday planning

If you’re looking to up your holiday decorating plans this year, make an early season call to your friends at Wagner so that we can send one of our electricians out to help you. Nothing is more important to us than your family’s health, happiness, and safety. Together, we’ll make sure your home stands out for its lights and decorations—not because of a holiday season home fire. Call us today to have our electricians assist you with your project.