Indianapolis Electricians Bring the Circle of Lights to Life

Indianapolis Electricians Bring the Circle of Lights to Life
Electricians hang lights at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Indianapolis

Electricians hang lights at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Indianapolis

The arrival of the holiday season just wouldn’t feel the same without the annual Circle of Lights display at the Indiana Soldiers and Sailors Monument in downtown Indianapolis. The festival kicks off the season with good tidings and a cup of cheer.

Have you ever wondered what it takes to pull off the city’s premier event? Well, Angie’s List has the answers to the 52-year-old Indianapolis tradition. We talked to Steve Menser, business manager and financial secretary of the Indiana Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 481, to find out how they accomplish this feat year after year, and get safety advice for homeowners who want to put on an amazing (and safe) light display.

1. How much manpower and how many hours does it take to execute the light display?

It takes about six hours to complete the installation with approximately 150 volunteer electricians of IBEW Local 481 — or 900 man-hours.

2. How many lights are used?

4,784 lights (52 strands at 92 lights per strand), two miles of garland and six miles of electrical wire.


Circle of Lights (Photo by )
An Indianapolis tradition for 52 years, Circle of Lights kicks off the holiday season. (Photo courtesy of Downtown Indy) (Photo by )

3. Do you monitor the display to ensure all the bulbs light throughout the display period?

The display is monitored daily, Monday through Friday, by Downtown Indy. The office overlooks the circle from the Chase Tower. If there is a complete strand out, they report it to IBEW Local 481, and we send a contractor to fix the issue. It’s usually just a blown fuse in the particular strand. We don’t replace an individual lamp if one is out as it would require lowering the entire 235-foot strand to the ground.

4. Has there ever been a year where the display was in jeopardy?

There has never been a year where the display was in jeopardy, but high winds and inclement weather created problems in the past. A few years ago, we had to assemble a team of volunteers — due to wind and freezing rain damage — just a few days before the lighting to lower around 12 of the 52 strands to repair the lamps and sockets. But, the lights always come on the night that we flip the switch.

5. Is IBEW Local 481 moving toward LED lights for the Circle of Lights?

We’ve tried about four different types of LED lamps over the last few years to see how they look compared to the current incandescent lamps. We just can’t find one that is bright enough with the same color and look. I believe as technology advances, we’ll find the right fit. Also, the upfront cost is quite expensive to replace 4,784 lamps all at once. Most of the LEDs we’ve tried in the past are in the range of $8 to 12 apiece, making the cost to re-lamp around $38,000 to $57,000.

6. What do the contractors who install the Circle of Lights do after they finish?

The volunteers and contractors usually go back to our Union Hall for sandwiches and refreshments after the installation. We have a celebration at the Sheraton on the Circle the day after Thanksgiving to watch the program from the 21st floor. We usually have around 300 members and their families at this event as a celebration of our gift to the city of Indianapolis.

Safety tips for installing holiday lights

You’ve checked your lights and checked them twice, but before you start hanging, consider these safety tips from IBEW Local 481 and the Contractors of Quality Connection. Not into DIY Christmas décor? No worries. Hire a contractor to do all the work.

• Inspect each electrical decoration. Cracked or frayed sockets, loose or bare wires and loose connections may cause a serious shock or start a fire.

• Don’t staple or nail through light strings or electrical/extension cords — you could damage the wire or insulation, which could lead to an electrical fire or shock.

• Turn off all electrical light strings and decorations before leaving home or going to bed.

• Watch for flickering lights and sparks from appliances or wall outlets. These signals are potential danger spots that could cause an electrical fire.

Related: Angie’s List Guide to Holiday Decorating

• Make sure there is a bulb in each socket. If a bulb burns out, leave it in until you have a replacement. Immediately replace any broken bulbs that have exposed filaments.

• Don’t run extension cords under rugs, around furniture legs or across doorways. Put safety covers on unused receptacle outlets and extension cords to prevent children from inserting anything into these openings.

• Keep your natural tree well watered to prevent bulbs from igniting dry branches. Never use electrical decorations on metal trees. Instead, place colored spotlights beside or above the tree. Check to make sure an artificial tree is non-flammable.

• Outdoor lighting should have insulated electrical cords and be plugged into a ground-fault interrupter-protected receptacle. Keep all plugs and connectors off the ground, away from puddles and snow.

• Don’t ignore switches or receptacle outlets that don’t work.

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