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Christmas Gift Guide
Smart Home

4 easy alternatives to hanging Christmas lights

Ditch the ladder. These tips will have your house lit without stringing lights.

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These battery-powered lights look great on a wreath.

Alina Bradford/CNET

If you like the idea of having a festive yard, but are unable to hang lights -- or you just don't want to use up your free time decorating -- there are plenty of other options.

During the last few years, I've found some creative ways to light up my yard without crawling out on my roof to put up Christmas lights.

Here are some ideas that take less than 20 minutes to set up, for those times when you're just too busy.

Rock a wreath  

The very simplest way to add holiday cheer to your home without spending much time is by decking the halls with lit wreaths. All you need to do is buy several premade Christmas wreaths and some battery powered Christmas lights. Wrap each wreath in a string -- or two -- of lights and hang the wreaths anywhere you need some holiday bling.

Put a smart bulb or colored bulb in your porch light and yard lights

The Playbulb is a smart bulb that has a built-in speaker and light system that you can control with a very easy-to-use app. Put them in your yard lights and porch light to transform your yard. You can control the colors of the bulb and play festive music through the speakers so your yard feels cheery, with very little effort. They cost $80 each, but you can find them online for less than $70. (The brand isn't widely available in the UK or Australia, but similar app-powered bulbs are around £20 on Amazon UK. $70 converts to about AU$90 should you choose to import them from the US.)

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

With the Playbulb app, you can synchronize the light to pulse along with your Christmas music, just like those cool Christmas light videos on YouTube -- without spending thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours programming lights.

If you have a different brand of colorful bulbs, find out if any third-party apps do the same. For instance, Hue Disco is an app that syncs your Philips Hue bulbs with music.

Still too much effort? Buy a bunch of red and green LED light bulbs and replace all of your yard and porch lights. No programming or apps needed, and your yard will still look festive.

Hack a work light (the right way)

Another way to have pretty lights in your yard without going to the trouble of stringing them is to make your own colorful spotlight to shine on your home. All you need to do it is a work light from your garage and 10 minutes of work.

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Alina Bradford/CNET

It's important to note that you should only use small LED work lights like an Eco Zone or this LED work light for a project like this. Other work lights will get too hot and may cause a fire.

Here is how to make your own Christmas spotlight:

  1. Measure the lens of the work light.
  2. Cut a piece of colored cellophane or colored plastic wrap (you can buy it or color it with permanent markers) the same size as the lens.
  3. Place the cellophane or colored plastic wrap over the lens and tape the edges down with airplane tape. You could use a different type of tape, but airplane tape is shiny, metallic and strong. It looks really nice and will last through moisture.
  4. Place the work light on a patio chair, a 5-gallon bucket or a stump, just to keep it off the ground, and turn it towards your home. It will shine a colorful light onto it.
  5. If you want a little more pizzazz, cut a star or snowflake out of black paper and glue it to the center of the cellophane. Your hacked light will shine the image onto your house.

Grab some projection lights

If that still seems like too much effort, get a couple of projection lights. It's the same concept as the work light hack, without the hacking. These laser or LED holiday lights project colorful lights or images onto your house so it looks completely festive, without all the work. All you do is spike the projector into the ground with the plastic pick included in the kit and plug it in.

The Star Shower Motion Laser Light or the Star Shower Motion are decent choices if you just want some colorful, moving lights on you house. You can also purchase projection lights that project snowflakes, reindeer, snowmen and other festive images. (You can find similar ones in the UK and Australia.)

Choosing a projection light for your home is simple. All you really need to do is to check how much square footage the projection covers. Then, you need to determine how many square feet on your home's exterior you want to cover with light.

Also, you need to remember that with many units, the farther back the unit is placed, the wider the light display is. So, if you have a large house but a very small front yard, you may not have enough room to set the unit away from your house. In this case, buy two units to get good coverage.