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I love this time of year. All the decorations, it finally gets (a little) cold down here in the south, and white lights are everywhere! Now is a great time to stock up on these beauties, and add magic to your home year round. I don’t believe in limiting these lights to the holidays. There are so many ways to work white lights into your decor (and celebrations)!
Types of White Lights (advantages and disadvantages of each)
Size of the Bulb:
Let’s start with the obvious, the bulb. Depending on the mood and light output you desire, you may opt for a mini bulb or a more old-fashioned larger bulb. In my opinion, smaller bulbs are more romantic and have a more magical presence. Larger bulbs are good for outdoor applications where you need some light for visibility, and for areas where you want an old-fashioned or farmhouse type feel.
Types of Bulbs:
In addition to the size of the bulb, you need to decide what type of bulb you want to use. Incandescent, LED, and ceramic bulbs are some of the more popular choices. Incandescent mini lights are what you typically think of when you think of white lights. These were the main type of bulb used for Christmas tree lights for decades. Incandescent lights create a pretty, warm white light. However, they use more electricity and get hotter than the newer LED bulbs.
LED bulbs have replaced incandescent bulbs as the main Christmas tree light choice. LED lights are more durable, last longer, create less heat, and use less energy than incandescent bulbs. The older LEDs gave off a bluish light, but that has been corrected and there are now warm white options. LEDs are my personal choice if you are looking for a plugin corded light.
Larger bulbs have more of an old-fashioned farmhouse feel. There are multiple types and shapes of these light strings, and I am not going to elaborate too much in this article. Ceramic lights are the very old-fashioned kind of light that your grandparents (or great-grandparents) used on their tree. They produce a lot of heat and should not be left unattended. Globe light strings are common for outdoor use. They produce more light than mini lights and make great lighting for an outdoor party. As long as they are rated for outdoor use, they can be left up and enjoyed year round.
Miscellaneous White Lights
Solar lights are now available and might be a good choice for outdoor lights in an open space. There will need to be ample sunlight to charge the battery, and there is a large variation between quality and operating times of solar units. Make sure your space has ample sunlight during the day, and read reviews before you purchase! Also, battery operated lights are now an option, and some battery lights come in a string form with tiny “bubble” bulbs. These work great in jars, arrangements, and under cloches. I have a string around the sail of my husband’s model sailboat.
Fairy Berries are a fun new product that is great for weddings and special events. They are mini orbs about 3/4″ in diameter, and their light fades on and off. They are waterproof, and they float, which makes them ideal for a water feature. The average life of a fairy berry is about 20 hours, and they can be turned off when not in use (by reinserting the plastic between the battery and contact). They also have small threading holes if you want to hang them.
Color: The second most important element of white lights is the cord. Choose your cord color by where you plan to use your lights. If you are using them around a tree, brown might be the best choice. Behind white netting for a more diffused look? Go with white or clear. Considering using lights in artificial greenery? Green would probably be the best choice. There are also a few light strings available with black cord, but green, brown, clear and white are the most readily available.
Next, think about the length of the light string. Consider the size of the space and the number of lights you want in any given area. Some of this will be dictated by the arrangement of lights (see below), but you can also double up or spiral your light string to get more light in a given area.
Lastly, consider the wiring. Typically, newer light strings will stay lit if one bulb goes out. Older lights used to be wired on a circuit, and when one filament burned out, the circuit was broken rendering the entire string useless (unless you could figure out which bulb was the culprit and replaced it). Some older lights were wired on a parallel circuit, in which case one bulb going out did not affect the rest of the bulbs. And if one bulb went out and half the strand died? That was most likely two strands of circuit wired bulbs together.
Arrangement of lights
Lastly, when considering the appearance of lights, is the arrangement of lights on the cord.
String – the most common arrangement. Lights are located side by side in a row along the cord. String lights are good for outlining features, wrapping around greenery, and, of course, Christmas trees. The spacing of lights along a cord can vary greatly, so most people use the number of bulbs to guide them. On average, use 100 to 200 lights for vertical foot of tree or greenery, depending on how bright you want the light to shine (and the diameter of what you are lighting). If you are outlining a feature, use the distance around the area you will be highlighting to guide you.
Cluster lights are fairly new and pack more lights onto each linear foot of cord. Each light is on a short cord perpendicular to the main cord, which allows more lights to fit into a smaller space. These lights are excellent for use garland, greenery, or around poles or banisters.
Net lights are placed on a grid of cord. These lights work great on bushes, wrapped around trees, or anywhere you have a large area to cover. They are measured in length x width.
Icicle or curtain lights are variations of the same theme. They each have bulbs on lengths of cord that run perpendicular to the main cord. Icicle lights vary in length and are shorter while curtain lights typically run between 9 and 10 feet high, in varying “widths”. These lights are great to light up an entire wall without looking too “arranged” (like the net lights sometimes do).
What else to look for
In addition to the appearance of the lights, there are several other aspects of white lights you might want to consider. These aspects include heat output, energy usage, expected life, number of strings that can be used together, indoor and/or outdoor use, and special features such as timed sequences. Heat output is mainly a concern with older types of bulbs. These lights should not be left unattended due to risk of fire. Most of the rest of the information you need can be found on the light packaging. A quality brand name is always your best choice and will often come with a warranty. Some accessories you might want to consider are timers and extension cords. For extension cords, always make sure the amperage matches the light source amperage, and don’t skimp on quality. Make sure that any extension cord you use is UL, CSA or ETL certified and rated for the intended use (indoor or outdoor) and power needs of whatever you are using it for. Do not pinch, staple, or bind extension cords in any way, and check them periodically for wear or heat damage. Never use an extension cord that becomes hot to touch or exhibits signs of damage or wear.
How and Where to Use:
There are so many places and occasions to use white lights, I probably can’t even name them all, much less list them here. These are some of the most common ways to incorporate white lights into your home decor.
Often used in bedrooms, behind sheer fabrics around the bed. I once used white rope lights under a bed for a little girl who was afraid there was a monster living there. We also put anti-monster bags under there (sachets) to make sure the room was monster free. She thought it was really cool that her bed looked like a spaceship about to take off. Battery operated lights can be used anywhere, including in jars, on tabletops and mantles, and under cloches.
White lights are perfect for happy celebrations like weddings, showers, anniversaries, or holidays. Use behind sheer fabric or tulle to
soften the look for a feminine bridal shower or baby shower. Use in flower arrangements, around landscaping, and above and around any wedding reception areas. Use fairy berries in pools or water features near the wedding or reception, or for a child’s birthday party (but supervise closely…fairy berries can be a choking hazard to smaller children).
Battery operated fairy lights can make any arrangement special. There are mini lights that can be placed inside balloons to make an even bolder statement!
White lights look great in small potted trees and bushes, and pretty much anywhere on your porch, deck or patio. Use white lights and spotlights to highlight special items in your landscape. Globe lights work great to cast a soft light on your patio or porch.
So make sure to stock up on these fabulous accessories while they are readily available. I’m pretty sure they are magic, and it’s impossible not to be happy in a room full of fairy lights!
Until next time,