Installing Holiday Decorations – Top Lessons and Mistakes
We’re covering 27 of the most common decoration installation mistakes we see in the industry. These tips will help keep you within safety standards and increase the lifespan of your holiday decorations.
1. Buying the wrong type of mounted decorations
First and foremost, it’s important you know about our types of decorations. Now, this is far less of an installation mistake than it is a purchasing mistake, but we have seen it happen and you don’t want to be the installer who has to go back to the purchaser and have them return their decorations. Before you buy, understand all of your hardware options. We offer all kinds of outdoor Christmas decorations:
- Ground mount decorations use a “guy kit” for staking into the ground.
- Street line displays hang from aircraft grade cable with S-hangers and O-rings
- Street pole Christmas decorations mount with steel bands fastened around bracket mounts on light poles.
- Wall mount decorations can hang over a building’s roof with cable or use eyebolts to secure into walls.
Choosing the right combination of Christmas decoration styles will help in creating the perfect holiday display.
2. Not enough clearance from pedestrian traffic
While many people already think about vehicular traffic, fewer think about pedestrian traffic. This is especially relevant for street pole decorations. Each decoration should be two feet above any pedestrian traffic. Consider that pedestrian traffic might include bikers, which will add an additional foot or so more to the highest traffic. This means your street pole decorations will hang at about 8-10′ at its lowest. As an installer, it’s your job to place the spade mount according to the height of the decoration’s lower half. Let’s say you’re looking to install a large, 4′ tall wreath. A 2′ clearance from pedestrian traffic places the lowest point of the decoration around 8′. If the wreath’s mount is in its middle, then the actual spade mount will be half the height, another 2′, higher than our lowest point. So for a 4′ tall decoration with 2′ clearance on pedestrian traffic, you’ll install the hardware at 10′. These are all things to consider before mounting commercial decorations.
3. Leaving plugs on the ground
Outside plugs need to be elevated above the ground to prevent snow or water from getting in. If you’re using an outdoor power strip, a great trick is to use a brick of rock to lift the plug from the ground. Not only can leaving plugs on the ground present a major electrical hazard, it can also damage your plugs severely. If your lights are on a timer, they’ll heat up when they’re in use at nights and cool down during the day. This can cause the surrounding snow to melt and trickle into the outlet, which will later freeze and expand when turned off, outright breaking your outlet. It’s important to also consider if your wall plugs will be above the snow. If your wall plug is a GFI outlet, it’ll likely turn off once in the snow and your lights won’t be visible. If it’s not, you could be exposed to electric shocks just by touching the outlet and potentially have a circuit short.
4. Not bench testing
Before going into the field for installation, bench test your decorations. This is especially important when you’re reusing decorations from previous seasons. You’ll want to leave them on for a while and check to see if bulbs are warming up. LED bulbs should not be noticeably hot. If they are, consider ordering replacement bulbs for the full set because lights that have been weathered for a season may have an obvious change in color. Even if your decorations aren’t coming out of storage this year, bench testing is a best practice that can save you time and frustration out in the field. Once you’re in the field, a decoration might need a simple fix but you won’t have the tools to do it. Be sure to inspect all of your decorations prior to installment.
5. Differing swag in garland overhang
Properly installing street line garland can be a difficult thing because of the various measurements you’ll need to take beforehand. The garland’s swag (the trough in between each point that’s attached to the cable) needs to remain consistent throughout the entire display. It will be quite obvious if you hang up garland with swag at various heights. However, as it turns out the calculations to find out the needed distance in between peaks are complex. We created the street line garland size calculator to help you exactly measure out how much total garland you’ll use, the total cable space it will use, and the distance between peaks for any amount of swag. Without a doubt, you’ll want to use this calculator before going into the field.
6. Throwing Cartons Away
When you first receive your decorations, they’re going to come in some big boxes. Don’t throw these away. Your decorations’ boxes are their home for three-fourths of the year. If you want to get the most use out of your decorations, take good care of them even when they’re not displayed. Like an athlete’s off-season, decorations need a break from being outside on display all the time. Keep your boxes for a safe storage container all the time.
7. Using S-hangers outside an O-ring
Street line decorations come welded with O-rings for hanging installation. O-rings are on all four corners of a script decoration so that each corner can be zip tied to another part of the decoration. They’re used in conjunction with S-hangers that hang from the line and hook through the O-ring. On the middle pieces of the script, an O-ring can get busy with zip ties and S-hangers going through it all together. We’ve seen installers use the O-rings for just zip ties and place the S-hangers on the bar of the decoration, and you may be tempted to do the same when in the field. This could be a big mistake because your decorations will look right to begin with, but will shift across the cable line with some high winds. The O-ring is meant to isolate the hanging location to just one spot. Make sure you always use S-hangers within the O-ring to prevent your line from slipping.
8. Disregard for planning
Creating a beautiful Christmas display doesn’t come without some prior planning. Not only will you have to plan the layout of your display—what decorations and where to place them—you’ll need to do some additional planning before installation as well. Consider measurements for how far away the nearby power sources are and how you plan to navigate extension cords if needed. For any street line display, you’ll have to measure the garland peaks and troughs. If you’re doing multiple Christmas displays across a city, ensure that each installation is using the same plans and universal measurements. Spacing your decorations accurately is an important factor in an installation that could easily end up in redoing an installation entirely.
9. Not shaping
Our garland, bows, wreaths, and trees all need to be shaped. Garland decorations use wire to hold their branches in place. And to save money on shipping, all of these decorations are compacted down to fit in a smaller box. You’ll need to view your installation from all visible angles and ensure the wire branches are fully extended and stretched out, covering the decoration in its entirety. A big decoration like a tree will especially need time dedicated to shaping during installation. Don’t make the mistake of assuming your decorations are fit for public viewing just by installing them properly. Installers need to do what they can to beautify the display, giving decorations the full and lively look people expect during their holiday season.
10. Installing ground mounts on uneven floors
All ground mounts need to be installed on flat ground. The obvious problem with installing decorations on uneven ground is that pedestrians will immediately notice the lopsided decorations. This applies to both our individual ground mount snowflakes and long scripts like our “Season’s Greetings” one. With long ground mount scripts, it becomes more challenging to find flat ground for the whole length of the decoration, but it’s even more essential. Uneven terrain for a script decoration can make your installation far less sturdy. If the different letters of the script are at different heights and angles, they won’t zip tie nicely together. The zip ties end up holding the entire weight of the letters rather than letting the decoration rest on its natural ground mount. For this reason, installing scripts on uneven ground results in decorations that often fall over. If your ground mount display feels unsteady, check to see if it’s level at each letter intersection.
11. Forgetting about the power sources
You should know exactly where your power sources are before installing. One major mistake is forgetting that some decorations like our season’s greetings scripts require a plugin on both sides of the decoration. If you encounter this problem in the field, you won’t be able to just wire an extension cord all the way across the road to the same outlet. That’s why knowing the location of the nearest power sources will keep you from having these type of wiring problems. As a general rule, try to use as few extension cords as possible. With each additional extension cord comes more potential pitfalls.
12. GFI power outlet over-sensitivity
A Ground-Fault Interrupter (GFI) is a type of power outlet that detects if there’s a mismatch of current going in and out. The circuit switches off instantly if it detects an imbalance in the currents. Usually, this is a safety function to save people from getting electrocuted while standing in water outside. However, GFI outlets can sense a discrepancy of as little as 4-5 milliamps. For many outdoor outlets, this means even a small amount of moisture inside the outlet will trigger your circuit to flip. If you’re decorating in moist conditions and your decoration won’t turn on, see if your power outlet is a ground-fault interrupter. GFIs and GFCIs all have a reset button you can use to correct the adaptor.
13. Driving ground mounts into the ground
Ground mounts rely on the guy kit to keep them stable. This means you do not have to drive the hardware into the ground to keep it stable. Not only do you risk breaking the decoration, you’ll also have trouble removing them when the time comes. The ground around the mount freezes, leaving the whole installation stuck until warmer months thaw out the ground. If you install the guy kit right, you won’t have to drive the decoration into the ground to keep it steady.
14. Not making the guy kit taut
There should be no slack in the cable going from your ground mount decoration to the stake in the ground. A loose cable means the decoration will move in the wind, allowing it to loosen the stake more and more until it frees itself. Put your ground mount stakes in at a 45-degree angle away from the decoration for maximum stability.
15. Improper storage
You need to take good care of your decorations. Determining how your holiday decorations are stored is a small decision that can have a big impact on the longevity of the decorations. While handling decorations, be sure to not scuff them up, break bulbs, or stack them under heavy items. They’re fragile and it’s important to take proper precautions when storing them. Besides the handling of decorations, we’ve also seen decorations come out of storage in worse condition than when they came in. Squishing boxes together or putting them under pressure for a long period of time can lead to the metal bars bending under the weight. Keep the decorations in a dry, ventilated area that does not exceed 105-degrees Fahrenheit. Decorations near a body of salt water should be kept away from heavy humidity, as the salt and humidity could increase corrosion while in storage. Take good care of your decorations and do thorough maintenance as needed.
16. Missing the safety pins
Our safety pins come with street line decorations to prevent the decoration from bouncing off the overhanging cable. While it is unlikely, we include the safety pins for intense storms or times of high wind so the decorations stay secure and safe for people. If you want your decorations to survive a storm, take the time to clip in the safety pins on the S-hangers of your street line decorations.
17. Material exposure
Your decorations’ lifespan can dramatically decrease in the wrong weather. Steel decorations outside in cities that heavily salt their roads will corrode faster and show signs of rusting sooner. Excessive heat could lead to adhesives or plastics melting. Flickering lights on decorations could mean a socket is freezing under the bulb, or a bulb simply isn’t screwed in all the way. Either way, you should check up on your decorations if you notice anything ajar, especially under extreme weather conditions.
18. Over-tightening bands
One common error we see is with our bracket mounts not fitting properly to a street pole due to over-tightened bands. Over-tightening bands can actually break them. This is especially easy to do when installing with a power drill, and may not be obvious immediately. Over-tightening can occur while mounting the bracket one band at a time, usually starting at the top. To get a correct bracket mount installation, secure all bands at the same time, tightening each one more as you go back and forth between them. What happens is an installer will tighten one band all the way (and a bit more because the single band allows for it), leaving one side of the mount lifted off the street pole. This elevation causes the next band to be impossible to install correctly without over-tightening it or leaving the decoration loose. Many installers leave it then installed incorrectly without catching their error. With one side elevated, the decoration’s bands will start to slip on their threads and eventually come break altogether. The leaves the installation to either fall to the ground or just dangle by the remaining one or two bands.
19. Going below minimum clearance
Street line decorations have a minimum clearance of 20 feet. Most installers already know this and plan ahead to have their street line decorations accommodating that range. But it’s easy to leave out the swag on a garland street line decoration when putting up a cable. Before you put in any cables, make sure you’ve found the total height of your decorations that will be hanging on the top. The S-hanger for street line decorations adds another ~4″. On top of that, if your cable’s bearing a heavy load it could dip in the middle. So when adjusting the height of your street line cable, give yourself an extra 4-5′ to account for decoration size.
20. Improper cutting
It’s a given that throughout your installations, various things will need cutting. This could be the excess banding on a spade mount, zip ties from a street line, or cable from a guy kit. A mistake in your cutting, however, can cause some serious trouble. Not only is it possible you’ll have to replace installation hardware, but it’s possible that when making cuts close to the decoration that you could snip a wire. This has happened to us while just working on demo installations. So before you cut anything, identify where the decoration wires are and be absolutely certain about the measurements.
21. Not ensuring level lines
With nearly any installation, you’ll need to check for level lines. This means if you’re installing a street pole decoration that the bands and bracket should be level. If it’s a wall mount decoration with cables hung over the roof then the cable needs to be vertically level. If you’re using eyesockets on a wall mount then the decoration itself needs to be level. In each installation case, it’s important to check various lines and make sure your decoration will look level. Many installers neglect to check for level lines and it becomes severely visible with large decorations tilted inches off center.
22. Failing to take accurate measurements
Measurements can fall through when installing in a variety of cases. As we’ve seen, this could lead to differing swag in street line garland or it could mean your amperage exceeds the maximum. There’s no way to list all the measuring pitfalls that could arise in the field somehow. Take your measurements inside and mark them. Before you go out, know where you plan to put each decoration and how to install it. Be prepared and measure twice.
23. Leaving extension cords unsecured
An unsecured extension cord leads to broken decorations. Someone tripping over a cord and just unplugging it means you’re the one to go plug it back in. Even more dangerous would be someone tripping and forcefully removing the decoration from its installation, breaking it or hurting themselves. Tape down your extension cords with enough slack in them to not pull tight against the outlet, but not enough to create loops or rises in the cord.
25. Running too many decorations
We created an electrical load calculator to help you understand the power requirements of your holiday display. Total amps are multiplied automatically in this calculator by 120% to account for displays running over 3 hours. Once you know the total amperage, look at the tags on your circuit and any wiring to find the total amperage they can handle. Choose the lower of the values to get your maximum amperage. You’ll overload your circuit if you exceed the maximum amperage. It’s important to note that daisy chaining wires or power strips could lead to melting wires or even fires. The smaller wires in extension cords might have a lower max amperage than your circuit. The solution to all of this is to spread out your decorations with enough outlets while using as few extension cords as possible.
24. Failure to account for load
We talked about accounting for the electrical load, but we still need to focus on weight. Failing to account for a display’s load rarely happens, but it could cause some severe damage in the case that it does. For example, installing an eyesocket wall mount into a fiberglass pole could cause damage to once the weight of the decoration is applied. Weight also comes into play when putting up your street line cable. We recommend aircraft grade cable to support your decorations. You should also check if the cable is tight enough to support the weight of your decorations. Extra slack could cause the decoration to droop down, potentially going below the minimum 20′ clearance. Think about the weight of your total display alongside installation method to determine if weight could cause any problems.
26. Neglecting sizing and placement
Stick to the proper use and placement of all your decorations. This is where you should look at the environment the decorations are in and consider if the display is appropriate. For example, if you live in a windy area, street line decorations hanging over cars might be more concerning for folks than delighting. Consider the size of decorations and if they’re proportional to their surroundings. A 6′ waving Santa on a 10′ street pole will look very odd as a display. Equally, a 3.5′ snowflake on 30′ freeway street poles looks small and meager. Try to optimize your decoration placement according to the surroundings.
27. Lack of communication
Many mistakes here go back to miscommunication between the distributor, the buyer, and the installer. Make sure that wherever you are in the installing process, you fully understand the wants of the purchasing organization and the requirements from the distributor’s hardware instructions. Installing something and having to go back and redo it costs time and money and can be especially frustrating if the error was due to miscommunication. Do your best to know the requirements of an installation beforehand and clarify them if needed.
In conclusion, be sure of your measurements, be aware of all electric outlets and navigation to them, install your decorations by the book and in a place that will maximize their lifespan, and always communicate with both buyer and distributor to ensure proper decoration installation. With this in mind, you’re ready to install your holiday decorations.
Display Sales is an experience creation company. We deliver custom flags, banners, holiday decor, and premium promotional products to help personalize and convey brand messages. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or contact us at displaysales.com/contact.