By Diane M. Calabrese / Published October 2022
For all the tranquility that Christmas lights add to a landscape, they have something in common with clogged gutters: There’s risk involved when working high, and neither installation nor cleaning should be done by amateurs.
Yet homeowners tend to procrastinate instead of calling contractors. They even mull over a do-it-yourself gambit. We know where the gutter DIY-er strategy often ends—overflow, ice dams, gutters pulling away from the roof, and some ladder accidents. Christmas lights pose mostly ladder peril if the installation goes high, and if the installation takes place at all. Once winter weather becomes earnest, DIY installation may not be possible. Strategies to get around bad weather have some property owners installing in October or even leaving strands up year-round (at least once). Better to call a professional installer.
Many power-washing contractors have added the installation of Christmas lights to services they offer. Kyle O’Hearn, the CEO of Powergreen Pressure Washing in Strongsville, OH, tells us a bit about the niche.
“We have been installing lights going on six years now,” says O’Hearn. “We began looking for an off-season service to keep us busy during the winter.”
O’Hearn explains that he did not just venture into installation. “We found a good training source through WeHangChristmasLights.Com and CLIPA. They were able to help us get started, and we have almost doubled in size ever since.” CLIPA is the Christmas Lights Installation Pros Association. (Read more about it in the next section.)
There is certainly crossover between power washing and lighting customers. “We probably have 15 percent of our Christmas lighting customers that we are also able to do power washing for,” say O’Hearn.
In addition to training, installers must be realistic about the weather and scheduling. “The biggest installation challenge would be deal-ing with the weather—having a snowstorm or an ice storm and having to find a way to get the lights up before your schedule gets backed up,” says O’Hearn.
The scale of a project dictates how much of the design process takes place through conversation and how much is sketched out. “When a project is large enough, we will give customers a visual design,” says O’Hearn. “Otherwise, most people are able to be walked through it verbally.”
For power-washing contractors considering adding light installation, O’Hearn advises remembering that it takes time to grow any new service line. “It’s definitely a service that, although not difficult, does require some knowledge and patience. If someone’s going to do it, they need to do it all the way and understand that they are not going to make money until the second year for almost every customer.”
Matt Hyden, the president of CLIPA, shares some thoughts on the importance of training and certification. (The context may be Christmas lighting, but the significance of documented expertise is familiar to power-washing contractors who routinely update their training and certification with guidance from professional organizations such as PWNA and UAMCC.)
The professional group Hyden leads offers both training and certification. “Our training not only focuses on product knowledge but also on safety aspects of conducting residential Christmas light installations.”
The training is comprehensive, extending to all facets of the task. “Some of the topics we cover are roof line safety, ladder safety, and electrical safety to name a few, and this will help ensure that installers are not only looking out for the safety of their employees but also the safety of the homeowners’ houses they are installing lights on,” says Hyden.
It’s a lot more difficult to overload circuits (and potentially start fires) than it was two decades ago, but electrical safety remains a priority even with safer lighting options.
“Working with LED lights has changed the power consumption to a fraction of the cost and use, but there are still things that installers need to know when it comes to limitations on power and ensuring they are not overloading circuits,” says Hyden. “We discuss these limitations in all of our training.”
The training provided by Hyden’s organization encompasses all aspects of safety. “Roof line and ladder safety are also very important to keep workers safe on job sites,” he explains.
Much of the training for working high or on ladders will not be new to power-washing contractors. But the specific context of lighting reinforces knowledge.
“In our trainings, we cover different tools and safety protocols that business owners should follow to ensure that not only are their workers safe, but the surrounding elements are protected,” says Hyden. And beyond the how-to and how-to-do-it-correctly every time, there is guidance in how to sell services.
“We teach sales and marketing and the bidding process when out on job sites along with many other topics,” says Hyden. “We want to ensure that every attendee is ready to hit the ground running when they leave our training event.”
Hyden’s organization has trained more than 1,000 installers in the United States and Canada since its entry into the industry in 2003. The installers have an excellent record of profit. In a four-month span, some of them do over $500,000 of business in Christmas light installation.
The relationship between Hyden’s professional group and its trainees is ongoing. “All training attendees get access to our backend training portal with over 18 hours of training videos and presentations, allowing them to go back as a refresher or utilize it to train their own workers,” he explains.
“We also have a full staff available throughout the season to help members when needed,” says Hyden. Moreover, all those who are certified through the organization are listed in its national directory. The listing enables consumer verification of certification.
Once certified by CLIPA, members can use its logo to herald certification on vehicle wraps, marketing materials, and so on. Members also receive professional discounts and pricing from lighting vendors, thanks to the pre-negotiated discounted pricing that the organization does on behalf of members. There are also discounts to members attending special events mounted by the organization.
The ambience and beauty of Christmas lighting may partly explain what seems a growing trend to add lighting to yards, outdoor dining areas, etc. across recent years. Hyden cautions that installers must be aware of the difference between a limited interval and a full-year display.
“Indoor installation has become very popular on the commercial side of Christmas light installations,”
says Hyden. They present another possibility for contractors. But the year-round installations are typically for permanent lighting solutions, explains Hyden. “Standard Christmas lights are not rated for permanent use, so installers seeking to install permanent jobs should use products that are rated for permanent use. There are many products available for this type of application.”
Is Hyden seeing evidence of more lighting across more months? “We are starting to see an uptick in businesses moving to more permanent solutions to allow them to light up their properties during the holidays outside of Christmas. We do see a slight increase in residential indoor installations but not to the extent of commercial.”
In many parts of the nation, indoor seating at restaurants continues to be limited, and outdoor spaces for diners have been increased. Similarly, many wedding receptions—and even marriage ceremonies—have been moved outdoors. They are just two of many spheres where outdoor lighting has increased.
Contractors who establish a service line for Christmas light installation are well-positioned to offer light installations for other purposes. A homeowner might want to increase ambience on a patio with strands of lights on shrubs or a pagoda.
Contractors who can install lighting safely and in a way that results in a feeling of serenity have a good start on expanding Christmas lighting installation into outdoor lighting installation—and possibly lobby installation in commercial buildings. But they must self-impose parameters (strategize).
Many contractors will only install the lights that they supply. The reason is safety, of course. If a building owner wants to supply lights, a contractor will have to test them and verify safety. If the contractor owns the lights, the lights will have to be stored between uses. That requires space.
Removal of seasonal lights must be scheduled as professionally as installation. For contractors at latitudes with mild winters, the removal should be completed before it interferes with the earliest cleaning jobs, which could be in January.
Safety and strategy are the parts of the service contractors under-stand well. Also, do be sure to promote the ambience aspect of lighting when selling.
For millennia, people have found ways to compensate when daylight hours are at minimum, and of course, to celebrate. Hence, illumination is an old standard in metaphors (e.g., light at end of tunnel, brighter days ahead).
If a contractor can sell light installation services to only 15 percent of his or her customers, that could be a powerful way to increase income in winter. Just don’t skip the training or forget the insurance.
For more ideas and sound advice, see the 2020 article from these pages, Add-ons: Christmas lights, https://www.cleanertimes.com/magazine/cleaner-times-articles-2/add-ons-christmas-lights.