Christmas lights can be big business or a family affair

Putting up the Christmas lights is a tradition following Thanksgiving. The frustrating job of unwinding light strands, testing bulbs, and climbing ladders has plenty of people looking for someone else to do the job for them. [Holiday Lights! : Brilliant displays to inspire your Christmas celebration]

Christmas light installation is big business dominated by landscape lighting companies. Longhorn Lighting, Got Lights and Rooster Mac Landscape Service all do Christmas lights to make money in the off-season.

“It accounts for half of our annual business. We’ll light up between 500 and 600 houses and businesses this year,” Longhorn Lighting owner Louis Petrik said.

Large scale decoration takes a lot of manpower. Longhorn Lighting uses 10 crews working full-time. They replace bulbs as needed, take down the lights after Christmas and store them in a warehouse so your garage won’t be cluttered.

Not all installation businesses offer such comprehensive service. Westlake homeowner James Caswell chose Petrik’s company because last year wasn’t a winter wonderland.

“They weren’t professional. It seemed like they were just starting out, and they hadn’t been doing it for very long,” Caswell said.

Most businesses rely on word of mouth. Only a handful of Christmas light installation businesses existed about 10 years ago. Now there are dozens in the Austin area.

The cost of the service can range from about $200 to $5,000 for residences and upwards of $10,000 for businesses.

Of course, some people feel it’s not Christmas unless they put up their lights themselves. Across the street from Caswell’s home in Westlake, the Parkens had everyone helping out to make it a family affair. [Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas Treasury for Kids: A Story a Day from December 1st through Christmas for Kids and Their Families]

Todd Parken said it takes them two weekends to string lights around 20 trees on his property.

“First off, I try to go through all the lights and try to figure out which ones still work, which normally is about 50 percent, and then I string out all my extension cords, and then I try to wrap every tree, and then I try to turn them on to make sure they work,” he said.

Both choices have their unique benefits. It’s just that one might cost you some nerves, and the other, some cash.

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