Mike and Kim Fanciullo didn’t know how they would get along with their new neighbors, Jennifer and Brian Shaner, when the Shaners moved two years ago to Greenwood Lane in Queensbury.
That first Christmas turned into a battle of wills.
“He (Mike Fanciullo) would be out putting up some decoration, and my husband would add something,” said Jennifer Shaner as the two couples stood in front of the Fanciullos’ 11 Greenwood Lane, home last week, basking in the glow of thousands of Christmas lights.
As the expansive display danced and shimmered in time with the soundtrack song from National Lampoon’s “Christmas Vacation,” Brian admitted he lost the battle.
“I gave up. I’m out,” he said with a chuckle. “We’ve joined forces.”
Turns out, the tide of the holiday arms race was turned by technology produced locally.
Mike Fanciullo said he was surprised to learn, after he bought the equipment, the Light-O-Rama control box and software that brought life to his decorations was made by a company based in Moreau.
“I just had to call the guy and talk to him,” Mike said.
That guy is Dan Baldwin, who together with his wife, Mary, launched Light-O-Rama in New Jersey about 10 years ago. Today, whenever a YouTube video of an animated light show goes viral on the Internet, chances are it’s Baldwin’s creation bringing it to life.
The Light-O-Rama system is also powering a Christmas display that has been created every year for about two decades by Paul and Pam Smith — with help from lots of local volunteers — at 22 Clayton Ave. in Glens Falls.
“When I started, I used one of their competitors,” Paul Smith said Wednesday.
But when that competitor — whom Baldwin explained has since lost the battle for the residential holiday light display market — didn’t come through with a feature that could help Smith make his display more interactive, he switched to Light-O-Rama’s equipment.
“The whole concept of my display is interactive,” Smith said. “If you don’t get out and interact with it, you don’t see half the display.”
The heart of the Light-O-Rama system is a control box, into which the extension cords are plugged to power the display’s lights. The control box is connected by ethernet cable to a computer, which runs the Light-O-Rama software.
But that’s it. The rest is up to the homeowner, explained Light-O-Rama owner Dan Baldwin. It can be daunting for a homeowner who doesn’t spend much time with computers to figure out how to put together a dynamic display.
“They see a video, and they just buy this stuff, and they think, ‘We’ll just get it, and it will do it,’ ” Baldwin said. “We tell them, ‘Look, you get this stuff, but it doesn’t do anything. It’s a blank canvas. You’ve got to do it.’ ”
Baldwin — and the Fanciullos and the Smiths — admitted it takes a certain kind of person to carry holiday decorating to this extreme.
For the average homeowner, the biggest tech investment for the holidays might be upgrading from regular lights to LED lights.
Dustin St. Andrews, manager of the St. Andrews Ace Hardware store on Route 9 in Queensbury, has seen the full evolution of LED lights and said the prices — and options — are improving.
“They’ve got the price down so much now this year that you can buy a pack of normal LED lights — the minilights — and they’re around $5.99,” St. Andrews said. “They started out at $12 or $13, and I think they were $8.99 or $9.99 last year.”
Prices for LED lights are still higher than regular lights, but the energy savings can be significant.
Smith, who owns the Clayton Avenue home, said he spent $3,600 last year to buy 14,000 new LED lights to cover just a couple of the features in his expansive display. He said the electricity savings he realized came to “at least a couple hundred dollars.”
That said, Smith warned the LED lights still have a ways to go on reliability, as some of his strands — he said he bought them on the Internet — have failed. The bulbs are also more difficult to replace.
“The other huge advantage (of LEDs) is the color,” Smith said. “Light bulbs fade dramatically. The color flakes off them. LEDs are usually in a plastic enclosure, so they’re less apt to break, and the fact that the LED itself emits the color, plus it has a color dome, so the color is much more intense and vivid.”
Mike Fanciullo and his neighbor, Brian Shaner, have yet to convert most of their displays to LEDs, but they have big plans to add on next year, they said.
“There will be a cherry picker involved,” Shaner said, with a grin.
Smith, who has made several improvements to his display this year, is still an innovator in his own right. One of the features in his display is Santa’s helicopter on the roof of the house.
He went this year to a local scrap yard and bought an automatic rear-door opener salvaged from a minivan in the hopes of making the helicopter lift off from the house during the show.
But the logistics haven’t been worked out, he admitted. He vowed to have the new feature in place for next year, though.
Both the Fanciullos and the Smiths are putting their holiday decorating talents to good use, collecting food donations in bins set out for spectators.
The Fanciullos are bringing donations at their home to the Open Door Mission in Glens Falls, and the Smiths are taking theirs to the Salvation Army’s food pantry.