Saturday Project

My big project for today was to hang Christmas lights. I’m terrified of heights and ever since we moved into this house I’ve been thinking about how I was going to hang lights on such a high roof. I even investigated paying one of those lighting companies to come out and do it but the cost was signficant. Last year the bishop in our old ward, who is an older gentleman, hung his own lights on a steeply pitched roof. I asked him how he did it and he told me he tied a rope around his waist and then anchored the rope on his chimney – it helped him walk around on his roof. I decided that if he could do it then I could certainly get a rope and do my own lights as well. So, this morning I set off with Diana in tow to get a rope (Nancy took the other kids to their practice session for tomorrow’s Primary Program in Sacrament Meeting). Where to get a rope? Well, rock climbers need ropes. Hmm, where do rock climbers go to buy stuff? How aobut REI?

Diana and I went into REI and ended up with a climbing rope, a harness, a locking carabiner, and a gadget thingy that let me belay my own rope and catch me if I fell. The gadget thingy was more than I wanted to spend but the guy at the store recommended it and I figured it would come in handy. The guy at the store showed me how to put the harness on, how to rig the gadget thingy, and how to lock in the carabiner. I came home with new confidence in my ability to put lights on the roof without killing myself.

Clipping my harness into the gadget thingy

The big problem with my house is that I don’t have a chimney up on top to tie off to. Also, I needed to be able to prevent myself from falling off any side of the house. If I tied off to the concrete porch anchors in the back yard, I would be safe while I was in the the front but I wouldn’t be safe in the back. If I tied off to someplace in front, I would be safe in back but not in front. I needed a place on top of the roof to tie off to. In the end I decided to put in a big eyebolt on the peak of the roof that I could run my rope through and thus belay myself to any side of house. The hardest part about putting the bolt in was dragging the drill up to the top of the roof so I could drill a pilot hole for my 3/8″ bolt. I eventually got the bolt in, rigged up my gear, and set off for the edge of the roof where the electrical outlet that’s hooked to a light-switch inside our house is located. As soon as I got to the edge and realized that I would have to get down on my belly, hang over the side of the house, and reach up under the eaves in order to plug in the lights I became extremely grateful for the gadget descender thingy that the guy at the store had sold me. It was worth every penny. When you’re hanging over the edge of the roof at the top of a 2-story house, the price you paid for the gadgets that keep you feeling safe becomes insignificant. Once I had accomplished that task (I actually plugged in a little extension cord that I’ll probably leave there so I’ll never have to do the belly-hang thing again) I was able to wire up the rest of the house with relative ease. I say relative because although wiring up the rest of the house wasn’t as bad as doing the belly hang, it was still terrifying for a guy that is afraid of heights. I spent the whole afternoon hanging on to my rope and moving a few inches at a time along the edge of the eaves: let the gadget thing slide down the rope a bit, scootch over to the edge, take up the slack and make sure the gadget thingy locked tight to the rope, grit teeth while reaching over the edge of the raingutter to hang the lights, scootch back up to the roof cling for dear life to the rope and the gadget thingy, sigh a sigh of relief. Repeat ad nausuem. I ended up missing the whole BYU game but once I got on the roof there was no way I was coming down until the job was finished.

In the end I was able to wire up the whole front and sides of the house along with some of the back. After a whole day of hanging lights, here is what I learned:

  • 300 light strings are worse than 100 light strings because they are harder to control and move with you along the side of the house. Better to work in small chunks and string 3 100 light strings together than to use 1 300 light string.
  • Shingles are wierd. They’re rough enough to hurt the skin of your hands and arms yet they’re slippery enough to make me want to scootch along on my bum rather than stand upright – even with a rope.
  • For how much work it is to string lights I should have bought the bigger outdoor only bulbs (you know – the kind Dad used to string up when we lived in Arizona) rather than the little indoor/outdoor bulbs. The outdoor bulbs are much brighter than the indoor/outdoor bulbs. If I’m going to spend a terrifying afternoon scootching around on the roof in a climbing harness I might as well get a nice display of light for my troubles rather than the wimpier display that the indoor/outdoor bulbs give off.
  • Roofers, high rise construction people, and window washers are probably all severely underpaid.
  • While the rope, harness, and gadget made hanging the lights possible, it certainly didn’t make hanging the lights desirable. As soon as I can afford it, I’ll pay someone to hang my lights.

Not as bright as I had hoped

In the end I’m just glad the project is done for now. Even though the homeowner’s association gets on everybody’s case about leaving the lights hanging up past the end of January I can tell you one thing: if there’s even a hint of snow/water/ice on the roof I’m leaving the lights up until June.


  1. Kelly says:

    This was hilarious! I felt like I was reading the script to a Tim Allen or Chevy Chase movie. You’ll have to read your kids If You Give a Mouse a Cookie or whatever that series is. Totally reminds me of if you give BYUFan a Christmas Light. What was the comparison in cost to all your gear and hiring someone to hang the lights? (Down here in the south lights for hire is very cheap.)

    I’m with you. I have always wanted lights on the house but there is no way either of us are getting up there. Maybe someday you’ll be glad you bought the little lights because they’ll show up less in June.

    Just hilarious. Good work!

  2. Lori says:

    When I got home from running errands yesterday, Bunny said “hey, your brother called to tell you he had put some purchases on our REI membership. He bought a harness and a climbing rope so he could get on his roof. Hee!” Then he got all serious: “Actually, that’s a good idea. If I ever got on our roof, I think I would wear my climbing harness.”

    BYUFan, totally serious request, how much could I pay you to come hang our lights? Our roof isn’t tall or steep like yours, but the rain gutters are taller than our regular ol 6 foot ladder can reach. We haven’t had Christmas lights since we moved here five years ago. (And before that, I was the one who put them up). I wouldn’t require anything super duper–just a couple of strands of outdoor bulbs across the front.

    What do you say? E-mail me or call me.

  3. BYUFan says:

    Cost to hang lights was $400. Cost for gear was certainly less than that.

  4. BYUFan says:

    Regarding hanging lights at Lori’s: Do you already have the lights? If not you’ll need to get them. If you’re hanging lights on the rain gutters you’ll want to get those plastic “universal hangers” or maybe you’re lucky and the previous owner put in cup hooks or something like that for hanging lights under all the eaves. The best kind of hangers are the kind that have a kind of expandable “jaw” to hold the C7/C9 lights. Otherwise the lights will swing in the wind and knock against the house. For minilights, the jaw is too small you usually just hang them on the clip’s hook and they don’t bang against the house so hard because they’re smaller.

    If you’re only hanging lights around the rain gutters on your first floor (and not trying to hang them on your second floor) then the only thing you need is a taller ladder. I have a tall extension ladder that you can borrow. I don’t mind hanging your lights for you if you really want me to – you can take Nancy and I out for sushi one night as repayment. I just fear that if I come over and do it your husband might think I’m challenging his manhood. I don’t want to cause friction there…

  5. mom says:

    Well I don’t want to say it was a hilarious tale of hanging lights because you really did a grand job – deciding what to do – sticking with it until done – but like Kelly, I thought it sounded like a Chevy Chase movie! Great telling of your lights project. So can you get the larger lights next year? If you’ve invested in the house climbing equipment, you deserve to add to the investment. Although the lights you have now are just perfect to your family, I’m sure.

  6. mom says:

    I just looked at the picture again and think the lights are fantastic.

  7. BYUFan says:

    I think we’ll go with the bigger lights next year and we’ll wrap the smaller “minilights” around the trees and bushes in our yard. If you think my house is like Clark Griswold’s then you should see some of the other houses on our street. We’re not nearly as brightly lit up as they are – that’s why I want to go with the bigger ceramic lights next year. Not that I have to keep up with the Joneses or anything but I don’t want to be the only house on the street with wimpy lights.

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