Want to Light Up Your House Like the Griswolds’? It’ll Cost You

By | January 19, 2016
national-lampoons-christmas-vacation-lights

“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”: Warner Bros.

Let’s say you want to make your house the brightest on the block this holiday season. A few hundred light bulbs won’t cut it—you want the whole neighborhood to know you’re going to have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced withDanny Kaye.

It might be the most expensive Christmas ever

You’d better hope your Christmas bonus isn’t a one-year subscription to the jelly-of-the-month club, because hiring professionals to light up your house with the power of a thousand suns (or LED lights) is, well, expensive.

According to Donald Williams, a master electrician and CEO ofGreenbulb Electrical in Colorado Springs, CO, it would cost about $16,000 to light up your home like the Griswolds’.

And, Williams says, if you want other specialty projects—such as “a scene with Santa dancing and lights are blinking and music is playing”—you’re looking at around $25,000.

That might sound insane, but there’s a demand for it.

“There’s a select market willing to pay thousands of dollars for 30 days of lights,” Williams says.

So what makes the installation of a bunch of lights cost more than a down payment? Williams broke it down for us.

Adding the lights

For a two-story traditional house such as the Griswolds’, you’re looking at about $3,000 just for renting the lights, Williams says.

He estimates you’ll want about 30 to 60 light bulbs per square foot. It doesn’t matter if the bulbs are multicolored or blinking, as they pretty much all cost the same. LED lights cost more to buy but drain much less energy, so Williams uses those when his company installs lights. Of course, costs will vary depending on how big your house is, with height being one of the biggest factors.

Materials and labor

For most two-story homes, you’ll need a motorized lift to install lights in those high places. It’ll take a two-person crew at least a week of eight-hour days to put them up, to the tune of $3,000, Williams estimates. Bigger jobs can call for up to $8,000 in labor. Another factor that can jack up your cost is the location of your house—if you’re in a mountainous region and the company needs to use scaffolding, expect to add another $3,000.

Circuitry

Here’s where things can get really expensive. The Griswolds used 25,000 lights, which require a significant amount of power, and you’ll need the right exterior circuits to handle it. Clark Griswold hooked them all up to a single power surge—which, in reality, would bring the firetrucks for Christmas.

Yeah, don’t do that.

“If you don’t have enough circuits on the outside of your home, we need to add an extra circuit, and that can cost between $6,000 and $8,000 just to literally work some Christmas lights,” Williams says. “And we’ve had to do it.”

If you need more juice, you’ll have to add more circuits. He says the Griswold home, which he estimates is “middle-income, bilevel, and probably has a 200-amp panel,” would in reality need another circuit. This is a permanent installation.

Controllers

Controllers are little “brains” that control what your lights do and can cost $600 to upward of $1,500 a week to rent, Williams says. If you just need to turn your lights on and off, you probably need just one. But if you want a whole scene with music and pulsating lights, you’ll need several, which could jack up your costs by as much as $6,000 a week, he says.

Electricity

This one’s a bit controversial. Williams says you can be looking at hundreds of dollars in electric bills for the month if you’re pulling straight off the grid, even with LED lights.

But Greg Osterland says differently. He’s covered his house in Wadsworth, OH, with 25,000 LED lights (the same number the Griswolds used) for the past three Christmases, and he says he pays only $30 to $40 per month in electric bills. (He runs them for only six-and-a-half hours a day.)

Williams couldn’t believe it when we told him, but Osterland insists “it’s true—I promise.”

It takes Osterland about eight weeks, a bunch of clips, and help from friends and familyto set up the lights. The installation was free, and the cost of the lights and electricity ran him about $5,000.

So if you want to save yourself some green, you can DIY. But be aware that you won’t be saving yourself time, and there’s always the safety factor. If you go it alone, you’ll want to know what you’re doing—lest you risk falling off a ladder, lighting your home on fire, or knocking out your power. And you’d better know your local laws and HOA regulations—some jurisdictions allow lights only at certain times or not at all.

“It’s more complex than people would think,” Williams says. “It’s all about safety—you get what you pay for, and safety is a priority.”

And, hey, if your pockets aren’t deep enough, you can always live vicariously.

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