Holiday lighting. It’s a tradition that dates back to the late 1800s, when the Savoy Theater in London debuted its enchanting “fairy lights” to mark the opening of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Isolante. Those early days of a few sparkling buildings dotting the landscape have given way to today’s “Christmas Vacation” era of abundant and intricate holiday light designs outlining the contours of our buildings, trees, fences, lawns and houses.
Merry and BRIGHT: Outshine The Other Tall Buildings, But at What Cost?
Who doesn’t love to see a commercial property shimmering with twinkle lights and the promise of a new holiday season? Deck those halls! But make sure the company hired to install the lights won’t leave the building with a holiday hangover.
Steve Little, President of KPOST Company, encourages commercial property owners to ask questions and understand who they are entrusting with their buildings. In the wrong hands, a new application of pristine holiday lights can mean a rooftop riddled with fastener holes driven right down through the waterproof barriers. It can mean surfaces gummed up with caulk and silicone that will be labor-intensive to remove down the line. Poorly executed lighting applications can not only void a roofing manufacturer’s warranty, but may require a sleigh load of effort to repair.
“People who do not know how to properly install rooftop accessories have no business winging it on customers’ roofs. Protect your asset. Factor the manufacturer’s warranty requirements as well as the company’s holiday lighting and electrical expertise into the hiring decision. Do not allow a low price to cinch your decision. Some of these lighting companies really cut corners up front, only to cost you more in the end,” says Little, who is proud of his Dallas-based commercial roofing company’s irreproachable safety track record.
Reindeer Paws and Fire Up on the Rooftop
Blake Tharp, owner of Holiday Lighting Concepts, a commercial and residential company responsible for lighting up the Westin Stonebriar, all of the local Sheraton hotels, and a number of commercial properties and residential neighborhoods in DFW, cautions that the market for holiday lights has changed significantly in the past few years. Landscape companies, keen to keep their crews busy over the holidays and get in on the holiday lighting boom, have taken up the mantle of professional light hangers with little more than a stack of flyers and good intentions. This influx of landscapers has driven prices down but introduced very real dangers into the marketplace.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve been on a roof with a huge hole, all the way through the membrane and down to the roof decking. Anything fiberglass, gets burned right through. I’d see sparks fly out, singeing the roof every time the power kicked on.” says Tharp of the shoddy installation work he has been called in to remedy in the past. “It’s the number one cause of structural fires this time of year. You can’t just splice these wires together with a little bit of tape and call it proper.”
Key Questions to Qualify Professional Commercial Holiday Lighting Companies:
1. Can you provide references attesting to your qualifications and background with installation on a warrantied roof system, electrical wiring, and Christmas lights?
The company representative ought to lead with assurances that the roof will be protected, its warranty preserved, and codes observed. Next, expect a ready list of commercial building references. Any answer that does not include mention of the superiority of LED lighting choices, thanks to the virtually nonexistent heat emissions and lower cost of operation, should not pass the sniff test.
2. What process do you use to get the lights up there straight and securely?
The worst answer, according to Tracey Donels, KPOST Company Service Department Manager, is one that features any talk of “individual mechanical fastenings and screws,” since every one of them will leave a hole in the roof and possibly the waterproofing membranes when it comes down again.
The best answer would feature a plan to install a permanent frame upon which the Christmas lights attach. A great lighting plan for metal roofs, on the other hand, features the use of industrial strength magnets, says Tharp. These lights require no silicone because the light base simply sticks to the metal roof. This system, while more expensive, will not blow off when the wind blows and it makes for a quick and easy installation.
A great answer for a concrete roof involves the use of parapet clips, which are adhered to the roof with a thin layer of silicone. A shingle tab slides into the clip and the light attaches to it.
“The Medical Center of Plano has used same ones for 10 years because the silicone is holding up well. You don’t see it from the street, so it’s very flat. You screw the light bulb into the shingle tab and you can slide the shingle tab out and reuse it the next year,” says Tharp, whose company, Holiday Lighting Concepts, is currently transitioning all of the hospital’s lights to the magnetic ones in the metal roof areas.
3. Where do you get your lights and what is the lab tested code called?
Note: The best answer is “in the United States” and only lights with an “Underwriters Laboratory Certification (UL).” Underwriters Laboratories is an independent product safety certification organization. Insurance companies will not cover damage caused by fixtures or holiday lights that do not bear the silver UL seal.
Keep in mind that the vast majority of light manufacturing gets outsourced to other countries. Recently, there has been a spate of counterfeit UL code stickers applied to lights made in other countries (read: China) so it is especially important the company is confident in the quality of its lights and the veracity of the UL stickers they bear.
4. (DRUMROLL) Can you explain your lighting company’s insurance coverage?
Note: Every company’s requirements are a little different, but in general they should hold a $2M General Aggregate policy that also carries $1M personal injury protection with property damage and medical expense coverage. Also ask to see the company’s NCCI form that shows all employees are covered by workers’ compensation therefore reducing the building owner’s risk. Many of these policies are tough to attain. If the company in question has one, it’s a sure sign you are dealing with a bonafide professional company.
KPOST Company Can Help
KPOST Company believes that maintaining a commercial roof’s integrity and warranty should be everyone’s top priority. Allow only professionals, rather than Griswoldians, to work on your buildings this holiday season.
“Let’s keep the holiday fires in the fireplaces,” says Little, noting that KPOST Company is ready and able to expertly repair any rooftop singe or detritus of holidays past.
Special thanks to Blake Tharp, of Holiday Lighting Concepts, for his contributions to this story. He can be reached at 214-778-9303 or [email protected].