Tom and Nancy DiCicco usually just settle for a wreath on their front door during the holidays. But this year, they spent $2,700 on a professionally installed display. Twenty years after Tom had a grand mal seizure while hanging decorations, the couple is willing to treat themselves to guaranteed safety.
Vincent Manzo designs the interiors of Tiffany & Co. and Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City as a display director. But when it comes to his own holiday display, he pays $3,200 to outsource the job to other professionals.
"It was a pleasure to have somebody do it for me," said Manzo.
Many homeowners on Long Island are giving up tangled light cords, blown bulbs and icy conditions and instead are opting to leave it to the pros. While it might be a hefty price for some to pay during the already cash-strapped holidays, these homeowners are willing to drop thousands — or hundreds of thousands — on safety, design and a wow factor.
What does it cost?
Vincent Manzo, left, enlisted Blinky's Christmas Lights, owned by Frank Grogan, right, to decorate his East Hampton cottage. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas
While some elaborate projects can exceed $500,000, the average project can cost anywhere from $1,500 to about $3,000, according to Frank Grogan, 24, owner of Blinky's Christmas Lights in Wantagh. Some companies like his require a homeowner to spend a minimum of $1,500 to get on the schedule. Factors in the final bill include the house size, number of decorations and color scheme.
The cost to decorate a typical two-story home like a Colonial or a Cape can range from $2,500 for lights around the roof and some bushes to $7,000 to also wrap bushes and trees, Grogan said.
Manzo, who has hired professionals to decorate his three-bedroom East Hampton cottage for three years, paid Grogan to design a display featuring lights on the gutter lines and on the sides of his house, garland around the door, lights on the bushes on either side of the door, a wreath on the chimney and six starbursts on the lawn.
"In my line of work, I know quality and I don’t mind paying for it," said Manzo. "I’ve had the house for about six years and I used to just put up garland and a line of lights. Frank [Grogan] introduced me to different design options."
Austin Perri, top left, and Luke Burks, right, install lights on the DiCiccos' home for Apex Home Maintenance, owned by Kyle Rossi, below. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost
Subsequent years tend to be cheaper after the first season since homeowners generally purchase the lights, added Kyle Rossi, 24, owner of Holiday Lighting by Apex Home Maintenance in Lindenhurst. After that, customers are only paying for labor, and can always add on each year as budgets change.
Rossi installed the DiCiccos’ display by stringing lights around their roof line, railings and front walkway, adding a lighted wreath on the door and starbursts on the lawn. Tom DiCicco,71, liked their décor so much that he asked Rossi to put lights on the fence of the service station the couple has owned in West Islip for 45 years.
Peace of mind, and body
Nancy and Tom DiCicco treated themselves to professional decorations on their 100-year-old Brightwaters home. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost
Quality of design isn’t the only draw for homeowners who opt for professional displays.
"I don’t want to risk going up on the ladder and falling off the roof just to do what I used to do," said Manzo.
He’s on to something. When it came to installing holiday lights between Nov. 1, 2021, and Jan. 31, 2022, there were an estimated 1,300 injuries that clearly occurred outdoors, according to Patty Davis, spokesperson for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. These estimates included falls and other injuries related to installing holiday lights.
After Tom DiCicco’s health emergency decades ago, safety and convenience were a priority for the Brightwaters couple, who have lived in their 100-year-old thatched cottage for 45 years.
"Ever since then, we didn't even want to think about lights because we’d think of the time he had the seizure," said Nancy, 70. "And with our medical history we don’t want to take chances."
The couple have pared their decorations over the years. "We’d just have a plastic Santa or a plastic snowman out front with some lights. Through the years, someone would steal them, so then we just put a wreath on the door," Nancy said.
Then, Nancy saw a sign for an installer last month and the couple, who just celebrated their 50th anniversary, decided it was time to try something different.
"Now I can just concentrate on decorating inside, and this year we’re going to have Christmas Eve at the house instead of going out," said Nancy.
What do they do?
Courtney Walters of Blinky's Christmas lights installs decorations on Vincent Manzo's home in East Hampton. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas
Professional installers offer residential and commercial services like decorating consultations, installation, maintenance, takedown and storage. Many installers also own seasonal businesses like landscaping, tree care, sprinkler, power washing and window washing companies, which used to be able to rely on snow plowing for offseason income.
As a result, finding a company that does holiday lighting installation has become easier, and there are a growing number on Long Island. You can even ask your own landscaper if they're able to take on the project.
But installers aren't just working during the usual holiday season, also offering light installations for Valentine's Day, Halloween, Diwali and Hanukkah, as well as parties and events like weddings.
While the main reason to hire a professional is that they have the equipment to do an installation safely, they also offer customization, making sure that the lights and cords fit to the exact measurement of your home, said Brendan McCaffrey, 37, owner of Mr. Holidays Lighting and Mr. Holidays Power Washing in Lynbrook.
"Homeowners will buy a 20-foot section of premade lights from Home Depot for a 16-foot roof line, and you can always tell they did it themselves because that overage of 4 feet will be hanging down on the side of the house," he said.
Customers can buy or rent the lights, depending on the company. Installation is done with clips that can withstand stormy conditions. Installers maintain the lights throughout the season, re-securing anything that is damaged and replacing any bulbs that go out. They also take them all down and most will store them for you.
Is it too late for 2023?
Frank Grogan, left, and Mike Gerardi install a display at Vincent Manzo's East Hampton home. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas
Grogan said this is the time of year that companies like his get calls from longtime homeowners who started to hang their own lights and changed their minds.
"We also get a lot of calls when people move into a new house and they discover the roof is a lot steeper and higher than the one they used to do," he said.
Installations for the holiday season start in mid-October, or September for existing customers, but you can call companies until a week before Christmas, said McCaffrey.
"It's never really too late to call, but we start installing lights in September for our renewals and for the larger projects that take longer to plan, our clients know to call even in July because they know if they call a week before Thanksgiving it might not be possible to get everything they wanted."
You might find an available installer as late as Dec. 22 — and even possibly Christmas Eve, said Rossi. But, he added, you may pay more for a last-minute gig.
"You have to decide if it's going to be worth it for you if it's only up for two weeks," he said.
Rossi recommended trying to get at least a month ahead of the holiday, whether it's Diwali, Hanukkah or Christmas.
Should you shop around?
Valerie and Joseph Lauto love to decorate but decided to let professionals handle it this year. Credit: Rick Kopstein
Valerie Lauto, 52, said for three of the last five years she and her husband, Joseph, 51, have lived in their Huntington ranch, she decorated the exterior herself.
But in 2022, Valerie didn't feel like being on ladders and believed that decorating the 1-acre property was getting to be too much. The couple started calling installation companies in late October and had trouble getting an appointment. They did find someone, but the company charged them twice as much as the one they hired this season and Valerie said they didn’t show them as much variety. This year they started in early September and got several estimates.
Valerie, a physical therapist, and Joseph, a business owner, recommend getting at least three or four estimates.
"You really have to search around to get somebody to give you good ideas and make it worthwhile," she said. "And start early so you can find someone who will help you design what you want."
The Lautos spent about $3,000 this year for design options they hadn't known were available. Now, Valerie said she can concentrate on decorating the inside with three different trees and garland. A bonus for starting early is that they get to enjoy the outdoor decorations longer because they turned them on mid-November and will keep them until about Jan. 6.
How do you choose?
Most companies have catalogs and photos on their websites from which customers can choose, with selections in a variety of price options. Basics are lighted garland around the front door and a wreath with a bow. Grogan said a traditional look for a Colonial or Cape can be lights on the gutter line and some lights in the landscape.
"You have to balance the light all the way up," he said. "You don't want to have all the lights on the top and nothing on the bottom ... We want to keep it clean and elegant, and you can always add to it this year or next."
The DiCiccos said they started out with fewer lights in mind, but once it was done, added about another $500 worth of lights and labor to their original budget of $2,200 because they liked the look.
Rossi said that color options include multicolor, warm white or pure white, which is LED lighting.
How long will it take?
The initial installation on most houses can take three to four hours, according to Grogan. Larger homes can take a few days.
"But reinstalls go faster because your lighting is already mapped out," Grogan said.
How long can you keep them up?
McCaffrey said most clients want the lights up until Little Christmas, Jan. 6. But takedowns can begin any time after Jan. 2 and go through March when most of the seasonal companies will have to switch gears for spring cleanup.
What about 2024?
If you’re not sure you want to hire someone this year or you discover you’re too late, most installers accept new contracts year-round. Once you’re on their list, you can arrange for an installation anytime starting early fall 2024. If that seems too soon, many installers use timers, so you can simply turn them on when you’re ready.
Doing your own lights?
If you're going to stick with installing your own holiday lights, here are some safety and decorating tips from Grogan:
- Safety should always be the first priority. Use the correct size ladder and a harness. Check cords and lights for damage like exposed wiring. "And make sure the extension cords are outdoor-rated and not just one from the computer room," he said.
- It's too cold to just go outside and start decorating without a plan so design ahead of time. And account for how many lights you will need and where the power or outlets are located.
- LED lights are more energy efficient, longer lasting and durable compared to incandescent lights. "And test the lights before you hang them because there's no worse feeling than taking all the time to put something up just for it not too work," Grogan said.
- Use clips or hooks rather than nails or staples, which can damage the house for the rest of the year.
- Set the lights on a timer so you don't have to deal with turning them on and off every day.
- Be realistic. "Some roofs and trees can be extremely dangerous and can pose a serious safety risk. Although I love Christmas and the lights, it's not worth risking hurting yourself or worse," said Grogan.