First, don't embarrass your family.

If trimming your house in lights, better watch out!

Gentlemen! Don your jackets and gloves, grab your ladders, and get ready to decorate your houses for the holidays!

But first, hold Brad Finkle's illuminating new book, Holiday Hero: A Man's Manual for Holiday Lighting (Chronicle Books, $9.95), in your left hand, raise your right hand, and repeat after the author:

I am a responsible light-hanger and will not embarrass my family with a theme of purple lights just because I found them on sale.

I will not shine floodlights into my neighbors' windows, unless they haven't returned the cordless drill they borrowed last summer.

I will meticulously wrap my extension cords so they won't end up in knots only an Eagle Scout could unwind.

I will not put red-and-white hats on my yard gnomes, because yard gnomes are not elves.

I will not ignore the warning label and use the top rung of my ladder as a step.

I will not incorporate Santa Claus into a Nativity scene or have him dancing on a dreidel.

This credo assumes that the men who will be balancing precariously on ladders trying to hang strings of lights already have design plans in mind.

If not, the book "outlines a plan that can make that experience more pleasant, and help them make the best display in the neighborhood," Finkle says.

"Most men think they can just go and do a project without any help and pull it off."

Finkle has been professionally decorating houses in the Midwest for the holidays for 20 years, and has won plenty of awards for doing it.

And he does believe that getting the outside of the house all bright and shining is man's work.

"Let the elves make their toys, let the womenfolk bake their pies," he says. "You're a holiday hero, and it's time to hang some lights."

In 2006, Home Depot says, it sold more than 40,000 miles of light sets - enough to circle the globe 11/2 times. That would be a tough decorating job even if you balanced the ladder on the International Space Station.

Closer to the ground, Finkle says, a lot of mistakes are possible in exterior decorating - the biggest being the use of orange extension cords.

"Use colored extension cords that match the surrounding of the area you're lighting," he says by phone from his home base in Nebraska.

Another misstep: lighting the house so much that on a clear night it's visible from the moon.

In fact, one of the major points Finkle makes in his book is that by planning - including taking accurate measurements of any shrubs and trees you'll be including in the scheme - you'll know from the start how many lights you need to buy.

The book has charts for calculating how much of every decorating item you'll need, plus a list of necessary tools, installation recommendations, 12 projects you can do easily, a troubleshooting guide in case problems arise, and removal and storage advice.

Since it appears, however, that planning is not a male strength when it comes to lighting, Finkle strongly recommends that you keep the number of lights you hang to less than six digits, and the amount you spend "below the GNP of a South Pacific island-nation."

Do your best "not to give the electric company's meter reader dirty looks in January," he adds.

Does that mean most people overdress their houses for the holidays?

"You are asking the wrong person here," Finkle says. "I had put over 10,000 lights on my parents' house when I was a teenager. The more lights you have, the bigger smiles you get from kids . . . and even adults, too."

Still, he does set some limits.

For example, he doesn't do inflatable Santas, snowmen and reindeer on the lawn, though he acknowledges that most of the people who decorate with them do so because they're easy to install, take down, and store for next year.

"I like the traditional light strands and the greenery," he says.

Speaking of electricity, Finkle offers a basic course in it - at least as it applies to lighting.

For example, newer houses tend to have exterior outlets. If the builder's electrician did his job correctly, the outlets are on ground-fault interrupter circuits, which means that if moisture is sensed, the power is shut off, and shocks prevented.

Finkle warns, though, that some outdoor electrical outlets share the same circuit as indoor receptacles and should not be overloaded. Because outdoor lights are set up and tested during the day, he says, you won't know if there's a problem until you turn on the inside lights. You may have to reset the circuit or replace a fuse.

What does Finkle say to those who think all this outdoor illumination wastes precious resources and helps speed climate change?

"There are not many things in this world that can take your mind off all the troubles around the country, but enjoying a grand lighting display can," he counters. "It gives you and your mind another, more pleasant feeling."

Fewer resources would be wasted if the decorations were removed in a reasonable time after the holidays.

For Finkle, that's the first week of January.


Contact real estate writer Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or aheavens@phillynews.com.

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