Angie's List: Holiday decorations

Decking the halls and trimming the tree require one thing, pulling out the holiday decorations.

Part of holiday fun is looking through old decorations that may have been handed down through the generations or are family keepsakes.

But, they take up storage space and haven't seen the holiday lights for years, and you just can't justify the expense of replacing them.

How to turn what may seem like a tired holiday look into a new one, without sacrificing your gift budget.

You can create a new holiday look this year using your old decorations in new ways or even finding new, budget friendly ones according to decorating pros who have tips most of us wouldn't have thought of.

"When it comes to decorating for the holidays, all too often we can just get stuck in a rut,” explains Angie Hicks founder of Angie’s List. “We always put the tree in the same place. We always decorate it the same way, but there are opportunities to change things up a bit that people don't even realize. Obviously, looking at magazines or watching shows, you might think of new ways to use old stuff. Also, a lot of times there are holiday decorators you can have come in not to do the decorating, but to actually consult with you. You pay them to have them there for an hour. It's not as expensive, but a great way to get a fresh eye."

"Finances are something we are always aware of, but we love our home and we love to entertain and we want it to look nice and be warm and friendly and welcoming," describes Homeowner Amy Sailing.

Bringing in an interior designer, if only for a consultation, is a great way to get ideas on how you can get a new look for less this holiday season.

"Apothecary jars, pretty vases, vases that I have picked up for 99 cents at thrift stores using the dollar stores they have vases,” Interior Designer Karen Mercer explains some inexpensive ways to give your house a new look. “We are going to show you how a $2 base and candle stick can make a very pretty apothecary jar. Once you put the greenery around it still looks very nice."

You're not the only one tired of the same decorations year after year. Your friends and family are just as tired of some of theirs. Think about organizing a decoration swap.

"I do think people can utilize a lot of different places; consignment stores, thrift shops, low costs decorating, you just have to think outside the box sometimes,” explains Mercer.

If you want help with your lights there are companies out there such as landscapers, roofers and handymen that will come and hang your lights, take them down and store them for you.

"If you are going to hire someone to hang the lights outside of your house, be sure that you are paying for it based on the job done,” says Angie. “So, pay to have the lights hung and then pay separately to have the lights taken down. Sometimes, we've heard stories where people have paid everything upfront and they never showed up to take the lights down."

"Another great question to ask someone hanging the lights is whether they are going to maintain the lights through the holiday season when there are fluctuations in the weather,” says Angie. “It's not unusual to have a sting of lights go out at the top of the evergreen tree. So, you want to know if that is included in your price for you to come back and fix that."

If you hire a company to hang lights, you should remember a couple things.

First, be sure the company is insured in case they get hurt on your property. And second, pay them in two steps, the installation and the removal. If you pay in full upfront, you don't have leverage if they forget to come back.

A small budget shouldn't prevent you from creating a new holiday look using your old decorations. Hiring expert help can be less expensive than you might think, and it could make a world of decorating difference. One trick? Find a designer who offers consulting services so you can get great, professional ideas but save money by doing the actual work yourself. Also, talking with landscapers, handymen and roofers to help hang your lights could save you some time and keep you from having to climb those dangerous ladders in the winter months.
Angie's List Tips: 9 Affordable do's for decorating your home's interior:
1. Go to the pros: Many interior designers/decorators offer consultation in addition to the actual decorating. Save money by hiring the advice but do the actual work yourself. Don't wait, though, it's the busy season for decorators. Call now and be clear about your budget and expectations, so you don't waste time with a decorator who's not interested in consultation only.
2. Take stock: Before you meet with anyone, take stock of the decorations you already have and show them to the decorator. He or she may suggest new ways to use your existing décor or affordable ways to supplement. Have your friends and family do the same thing. You may find you can swap décor and give everyone a fresh, new and affordable look this season without spending a dime.
3. Using sentimental objects: If there is a loved one in your family you've lost, but still want to honor, use something they may have left you as part of a center piece for the holidays.
4. Use nature: Go outside and use evergreen branches, pine cones or berries they can make beautiful arrangements and not cost you a penny.
5. Pick a focal point: Choose one part of your house to highlight, whether it be the dining room table, entry way, mantel or tree. You don't have to have every inch decorated to make your home look good.
6. Get the service scoop: Designers won't likely hang outside lights, but they may suggest companies that do that.
7. Hire well: Do your research on what services the designer offers, look at his or her portfolio and check qualifications
8. Ask about costs: You could have a designer come to your house for an hour to show your ideas or you could hire the designer to do all of the decorating. Make sure they know your budget beforehand.
9. Selecting a tree: If you are a fake tree person maybe spruce it up with new colors. If you go to a tree farm, know your budget and talk to the experts there about what would go best with your décor and home.

There are companies who offer hanging lights outside as a seasonal service - such as landscapers, roofers, and handymen - and other companies who specialize in holiday decorating. Exterior decorations left out too long after the holiday season will not only annoy your neighbors, but can pose a fire hazard. Holiday lights are seasonal and should only be up for a limited time.

Angie's List tips: 9 do's of decorating your home's exterior:
1. Consider hiring help. Every year the holiday decorations get more extravagant, and houses these days have more difficult roof lines, so it's challenging to hang the lights and decorations yourself. Also, they can help you with a design that best fits your house.
2. Check rules and regulations: If you belong to a homeowner's association, ask what decorations are allowed to be added to your home's exterior before you hire.
3. Call early in the season to get scheduled: Meet in person and share ideas so no one is surprised or disappointed by the final design. Ask to see photos of other homes they've decorated to make sure their designs are in line with the style you want. How creative do you want to get? Do you want a theme with your decorations or do you want to remain traditional?
4. Is the company qualified? The holiday decorating company will likely access your roof to hang lights- check that the decorator is insured to protect against any falls or accidents - otherwise it falls back on the homeowner.
5. Ask about costs: How do they determine the price - by square foot or by the hour? Don't forget to ask about the cost of materials- are you required to purchase the company's lights/decorations - or will they hang your pre-existing decorations?
6. Installation process: Ask if you'll be required to be home during installation. Generally, the company will need access to your home's power sources. Check if your display will be on an automatic timer, or if you'll have to manually plug in the display.
7. What is your timeline? Figure out when you'd like the house decorated by and for how long? Some people want to flip the switch right after Thanksgiving and keep the lights up through January; others are just looking for a couple weeks.
8. What's their maintenance policy? If a bulb or timer goes out, do they have staff available to return to your home and fix/repair the decorations?
9. After the fact: Will the company come back and take down the lights? Also, some companies will store your lights for you, so ask about the service.

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