Streamlining your display setup and teardown

Tips and tricks

Chuck and Greg
Chuck and Greg

Time is precious and it becomes more so as the pre-holiday decorating season gets underway. This is my ninth season for an over-the-top display and fourth year of using a synchronized light and music show. As the display has grown bigger and elaborate the set-up has become more time-consuming and complex. The deadline to “turn-on” the lights still looms.

Each year I discover new techniques that save time in my display set-up. Some are simple ideas that could save hours of time and some are tested techniques that will not only save time, but make the process easier.

1. Plan and pre-measure size and locations of motifs, strings of lights and decorations ahead of set up. My goal for set up is to hang, plug-in and move-on. There is no time for adjusting, fitting and tinkering.

2. Pre-measure wiring leads between motifs and power source before set up season. I extend or shorten wires to a custom length using a soldering gun and liquid tape to get a water-tight connection. This technique is especially helpful during setup even though it seems odd while making the change.

3. Carefully plan a date to cut your yard grass, trees, bushes, shrubs and wash off concrete surfaces.

4. Some cardboard shipping boxes that motifs come in are overly complex, redundant and time consuming to open. Modify the boxes before the setup season. Use a box knife to cut off excess flaps and locking tabs. Boxes reseal well with wide scotch tape.

5. Thoroughly clear out a staging area prior to unloading motifs, boxes and supplies. This allows you to be able to quickly and efficiently organize setup.

6. Computer synchronized light shows make a wonderful display addition but are not necessary for a great display. If you do undertake this task, I have three pieces of advice: START EARLY, START EARLY, and START EARLY! In my first year of computerization, I began the task in early June, selecting music, programming, etc. It takes time and effort, but is well worth it. Depending on your number of channels and the song complexity, sequencing can take three to five hours of work for every one minute of song time.


1. Make wiring harnesses from bulk wire. Mark major turns or locations with a colored zip tie or band for quick and easy relocation. Use zip plugs for added speed. Harnesses, just like those in our automobiles, are especially helpful for synchronized light shows. Carefully label and catalog each end of each wire. Once the harnesses are complete, they can easily be reused in subsequent years. This is a real time saver.

2. Use as few extension cords as possible by extending (or shortening) motif lead wires. This eliminates some sources of unintended power disconnects, shorts and errant electricity zots. Finding wiring faults (open and shorted circuits) are not only time consuming, but can be frustrating as well.

3. Use a leather belt holster to hold your wire cutters. It’s amazing how many hours can be spent looking for the cutters. It is also helpful to purchase multiple sets of wire cutters to minimize search time when they are set down. Buy a cloth apron with pockets, available at Home Depot or Lowe’s for a couple of bucks. It will be helpful for holding zip ties, screws, clips, etc.

4. Start installing motifs at the highest point in the display and work downward. This reduces clutter and display damage. I hang and set up ALL lights and motifs, then come back and add electrical wires to power the display. This type of work sequencing promotes organization and minimizes tripping hazards while you are working.

5. At night time, pre-assemble tomorrow’s installs. Assemble on the ground in the well lighted staging area such as your garage or patio or yard.

6. Once your display is up and running, promptly update your Christmas light website. As more and more people visit the web before hitting the road, it is becoming effective in drawing viewers.


1. Disassemble the display from the bottom up. Have the boxes ready to re-package the items. Carefully mark boxes with wide, permanent black marker pens or printed labels for the boxes so you know exactly what is in each box.

2. On delicate motifs, use sheets of bubble wrap during storage. The bubble wrap saves time unsnarling wires and tangled bulb sockets as well as protecting all the irregular wires and light sockets.

3. Before putting anything away make needed repairs and replace burned out light bulbs. I keep a supply of hundreds of light bulbs of every color. Put damaged items aside until you fix them.

4. Coil large extension cords (50-100ft) and secure them with Velcro straps. Smaller cords can be bound with twist ties.

5. Very carefully re-pack your motifs so they are ready and in good condition for next season. Many hours can be trimmed from the set-up time by well boxed motifs. Yes, it is boring after all the excitement of the display, but very well worth the time and effort spent come next year.

6. Labeling boxes with large block letters on at least two sides, also makes the next setup more time efficient.

In summary, careful planning and execution will help save time and headaches. Most of all, before, during and after the Christmas season remember that your display brings happiness and creates lasting memories for all who see it!

Author Greg Zimmerman lives on Balboa Island, CA and has won numerous awards for his Christmas display. His home has been featured in newspapers, magazine articles and national television programs. Visit

This article was included in the November 2009 issue of PlanetChristmas Magazine.

By Greg Zimmerman

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