Scare-tastically Festive Lights and Frights

BY ERIK J. MARTIN ON OCTOBER 13TH, 2016

Enjoy showcasing freshly carved jack-o’-lanterns and decking the halls? Why not also deck the lawn this Halloween or Christmas season with a fun and festive holiday yard display that can entertain the masses as well as the missus? With the right preparation, you can create an unforgettable presentation that will be the envy of your neighborhood – one designed to withstand the elements, thwart thieves and vandals, and sidestep injuries, say the experts.

Want proof that all this is possible? Just ask Glenview, Illinois, homeowner Carrie Polales Sansing, who’s successfully hosted both a major Christmas display and a Halloween haunt in her front yard for the last 40 years.

“Our Christmas display uses computer controls to sync lights to music, and we employ many different types of props, wire frame decorations, and figures, including an 80-member choir, 21-foot tall tree made of blow molds and approximately 30,000 lights every year,” Sansing says. “The key to creating a good holiday display is to plan it carefully. Your yard is your canvas; and you’re painting with lights, figures and motion.”

Of course, 30,000 lights isn’t a requirement for a striking exterior exhibit. Bryan Gruszka, co-founder of Horror Tourers, a Chicago Heights-based group that visits and critiques Illinois homes decorated for Halloween, says displays that are more subtle tend to produce more of a memorable atmosphere than those that are over the top.

“Less if often more when it comes to the creepiness factor, and it’s not about how much space or how many props you have – it’s what you do with them. For instance, placing store-bought horror movie character props in a setting reminiscent of their movie appearances – like Michael Myers peering behind a bush – makes things memorable and different,” says Gruszka, who particularly admires homemade props. “Trying to simply place as much as possible on your property or outdo your neighbors really doesn’t bring a display together as much as simply taking one’s enthusiasm for the season and using it to create something you can be proud of.”

Regardless of your display’s ingredients, it’s important to follow a recipe for safety.

“Before plugging in multiple extension cords, lights, fog machines and other devices to your home, you should follow proper precautions, like having a local licensed electrician inspect to make sure your electrical system is in good working order,” says Lamar Jolivette, owner of Mr. Electric of Northwest Houston, who also recommends using GFCI outlets, drip loops in cords to prevent water damage and a whole-house surge protector.

Sansing encourages using video surveillance cameras to monitor your property as well as signs indicating this protection.

“And you must protect your props from the elements and thieves, too,” says Sansing, who secures her figures and materials using rebar rods driven into the ground, plastic zip ties and sandbags inside the props.

Additionally, “make sure your property is well-lit at night to prevent people from falling, ensure that no wires are exposed to trip or tangle visitors, and don’t use burning candles, which can start fires,” says Loretta Worters, vice president of communications for the Insurance Information Institute. Worters also advises upping your homeowners insurance liability portion to at least $500,000 of coverage and purchasing a $1 million or higher umbrella policy to protect you from injury lawsuits.

Finally, avoid charging admission to your display, which may violate your municipality’s zoning laws and leave you vulnerable to litigation.

“If your display is viewed as a business or commercial enterprise, your homeowners policy may deny coverage,” says Thomas J. Simeone, attorney with Simeone & Miller, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

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