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How to Hang Christmas Lights Outside in 9 Easy-to-Do Steps

Posted by Parker Eakin on April 16, 2021

How to Hang Christmas Lights Outside in 9 Easy-to-Do Steps | Christmas World

If you're reading this, chances are the Christmas season is a few months away or right around the corner, so you're off to a great start by getting prepared early.

Getting those lights out, checking your supplies, and planning your lighting design saves you frustration later. Likewise, installing your twinkling wonderland while the weather is still temperate makes hanging Christmas lights on house endeavors more enjoyable and successful.

There's nothing quite like a neighborhood filled with bright shimmering lights to welcome in the season. Whether this is your first time hanging Christmas lights or you've struggled with problems every year, this step-by-step guide makes the task a first-rate, fun adventure sure to wow the neighborhood and you.

Step 1: Draft A Plan

Take a step back and look at the outside of your house and surrounding greenery. What do you envision when you've finished decorating? Map it out on a piece of paper. While planning, pick the focal point of your design.

planning christmas decorations

For example, try the front porch and double doors of the front entrance framed by columns. Put the highest concentration of brightest lights there.

Additionally, figure out which power source outlets you plan to use and make sure they have a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) for protection and 120-volt capacity. The circuits you use should never go beyond 80% of their maximum capacity. Since most household circuits are 15 to 20 amps, you don't want to plug in more than 1440 to 1920 watts.

Step 2: Measure the Areas You're Decorating

Get out a long, sturdy measuring tape and measure every straight line, including the vertical corners where you plan to hang your strands of lights, such as along the windows and doors, across the roof gutters, deck, flowerbeds, trees, railings, and pathways.

measuring for Christmas lights

Measuring tree trunks or columns that you plan to wrap lights around gets trickier. Rather than circling the object with your measuring tape, you can divide the length by the distance you plan to set the strands apart while wrapping. Save this number.

Now measure the circumference in feet and multiply it by that saved number. That's how many feet of lights you need.

It's always good to add a couple of feet to make sure you don't come up short. Better to have extra lights than not enough.

Also, make sure to measure from your power sources to where the end plugs of your strands will fall so you can buy the correct length extension cords.

Write all measurements down and what part of the house or lawn they're for before going shopping.

Step 3: Choose the Outdoor Lights

Now that you have your plan put together and know the required lengths of light strands you need, you're ready to bring your vision to life. You have plenty of lights to consider.

icicle Christmas lights

Icicle strands dangle from the eaves of your roof or the top of your windows. They come in a variety of styles, such as candle-tip shape bulbs, snowflake or star shape bulbs, or our beautiful round-tip design of our Super Mini™ Icicle lights that leave a halo pattern on nearby surfaces.

Net lights are just what the name implies. You place the net over your bushes and hedges. Double up to cover any bald spots and put some farther inside to give the shrub more depth.

Net lights are much easier to use than single strands you weave into the branches yourself. Every mini-light bulb sits evenly apart from the others, providing thorough coverage.

Mini-lights work nicely in trees, bushes, and other greenery and are often used on columns and windows, as well. They're typically less expensive and don't burn as much energy as C9s or C7s. They have a lower voltage that prevents them from getting too hot.

Pathway lights and spotlights come in a variety of options. You can purchase C9 or C7 lights and use light stakes to place into the ground along the pathway. Other choices include Candy Canes, snowflakes, lantern-style lamps, or candle string lights, to name a few.

Type G bulbs are round lights that give off large amounts of luminosity if you're trying to emphasize an area such as your decided focal point. While often used for event or patio lights, our colored G30 bulbs look beautiful on rooflines or in trees.

Rope lights come with evenly spaced lights inside a translucent, flexible tube to use on railings or walkways.

C9 and C7 bulbs are the most popular for roof edges and trimming around windows and doors. C9s are taller and wider than C7s. Overall, their larger size makes them more visible, as well as durable and reliable.

Retrofit lighting, such as C7 and C9 lights, are where bulbs are separate from the wire, allowing individual bulbs to be changed out as needed. With retrofit lighting, Bulbs are easy to replace if one stops working or breaks without affecting the rest of the lights.

With Retrofit lighting, you also have the option to buy the wire strands alone in a variety of colors, such as black, green, or white lights. They have empty ports (sockets) to screw bulbs into that you buy separately. You can get more creative with your color patterns.

Choosing LED or Incandescent Lights

Generally speaking, incandescent lights shine warmer and have a familiar vibe from childhood. Whites have a yellow tint, while white LED lights are typically thought of having a blue undertone. However, our LEDs come in 3 shades of white, ranging from warm colors that look remarkably close to incandescents of the past, to brighter whites with blue undertones.

LEDs are very energy-efficient and don't get hot, so they reduce fire-hazard while lasting much longer---20,000 to 100,000 hours, depending on the type you purchase. In contrast, incandescents only last about 3000 hours.

Though the initial investment is more expensive with LEDs, you won't have to buy replacements for a long time and make up for the money spent on a lower electricity bill, too.

Made from acrylic instead of glass, they're less breakable. LEDs also allow you to connect far more strands or bulbs together in a single run of lights, making them much safer.

When deciding which lights to purchase, it comes down to personal preference. However, it's best not to mix both types since colors shine slightly differently.

Since you only use your lights once a year, either choice is reasonable, and with safety precautions in place, incandescent bulbs don't pose a significantly higher risk.

Whichever you choose, you might decide to follow decorating trends of the last couple of years---a retro, throwback look, achieved with either kind of light.

Step 4: Get the Right Tools to Hang Your Christmas Lights

Along with purchasing your lights, you'll need other tools to make the job easier.

  • Step ladder or extension ladder for high rooftops
  • Exterior-rated extension cords safe for all outdoor weather conditions
  • All-purpose or specific clips for shingle, gutter, deck, window, and door-frame fastening
  • Stakes for pathway and flower bed lighting
  • Light-hanging pole
  • Light timer
  • Duct tape for labeling strands and extra plug protection
tools to hang christmas lights

Using Clips

No longer do you need to use a hammer and nails or staple gun to fasten your lights, which involves more danger and the risk of damaging the exterior of your house. Nor will you accidentally pierce or wear away the protective coating of the wires, increasing fire hazard.

Light clips are weather-resistance and durable, without requiring extra work from you. You can use them just about anywhere.

The all-in-one clips available are the most convenient. They have more than one clasp option, making them great for roof edges, shingles, or gutters of varying sizes. They work with mini-lights, icicles, LED, C-sizes, and rope lights.

For attaching lights on windows and doors, you may need to purchase adhesive or rope light clips. Find the ones that don't damage your paint or wood. Additionally, you can find deck clips that work on fences and railings too.

Some houses have vinyl siding, and you can tuck the base of C7 bulbs between the siding and wood or use small clips. Place them at an angle for a more secure hold.

Stake Lights for Yard and Pathway Decorating

You can buy bulbs already fastened to stakes or buy stakes and bulbs separately giving you more flexibility and the option to replace stakes that break due to the frozen ground. Place them into the ground an equal distance apart and light up the pathway to your house. Illuminate your flower beds and planters in the yard, as well.

You can also use spotlights to illuminate gardens or a tree without available branches to string lights on.

Power stakes bring your energy sources to where you need them instead of having wires running all over your landscape. These stakes also come with timers and remote controls, so you don't have to worry about getting up at four in the morning because you forgot to turn the lights off before going to bed.

Though solar LEDs and other LED lights have sensors that turn off during the day and on at night, timers allow you to set other specifications, as well.

Considerations for Extension Cords and Light Wires

Any extension cords you use should be in excellent condition with no exposed wire or broken sockets. They need to be outdoor, heavy-duty extensions meant to withstand all weather conditions. You can also apply electrical tape where the cords connect for extra protection. You don't want moisture seeping in and causing a fuse or breaker short.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) advocates that you always match the amperage of your lights to the amperage of your extension cords.

Besides meeting outdoor safety standards, make sure your extension cords blend in with the color of your house or any other location. Having a black one against a lighter wall is much more noticeable and interferes with the polished look you're trying to achieve.

It happens with light strands, as well. You can buy black, white, or green to help with blending. Usually, white wire works best with light-colored trim and green works best for dark-colored trim and for foliage.

Decorating Trees with a Light-Hanging Pole

With one of these gadgets, you can get too hard-to-reach areas by lifting strands to the desired branches. You can use the pole from the ground or on a ladder. Light-hanging-poles make the task of tree decorating much less frustrating.

Step 5: Checking and Labeling Your Lights

Once you have all your lights, it's time to plug them in and make sure every bulb works. Finding a light or strand that is malfunctioning is easier to deal with before you hang them up. Buying shorter light strands makes replacing faulty ones simpler and less expensive.

bundle of mini lights

If you notice an incandescent bulb shining brighter than the rest, it could mean it's about to blow out and needs replacing. Wear gloves to take out any broken bulbs, so you don't risk cutting yourself. You'll need long-nose pliers to get them out. Mini-lights need pulling in a straight motion, while C7 and C9 bulbs require unscrewing counter-clockwise. It’s important to note that not all lights are replaceable. Some mini lights offer a sealed design to prevent damage or wear due to water, making them last much longer.

If you're using the latest technology and have smart-lights, connect them to your phone and ensure everything is functioning correctly.

When lights are in working order and ready to go, mark each strand or group of stands by folding duct tape at the end of the wire and labeling its destination with a permanent marker.

This simple step prevents the hassle of grabbing the wrong wires for the wrong places. No one wants to struggle with which lights go where, especially when the night descends, and it's getting cold and hard to see---even worse when you've already fastened most of the strand!

Step 6: Adding Clips to Your Light Strands

It's much easier to place clips on lights while on the ground. Putting the clips on first makes hanging Christmas lights on house projects more manageable. Place them at the base of every bulb and make sure bulbs are all facing the same direction.

clips on Christmas lights

You can place light strands in a bucket to carry on the ladder. With lights that come on a spool, just carefully wrap them around again.

Once positioned on the ladder, you insert each clip and light where you want it while keeping the wire taught and inserting the next one, and so on. It's easier to take one strand up at a time and connect them to other strands as you go.

Nonetheless, some people like to carry the clips up with them, insert them one at a time along with the lights. Once you've tried both ways, you can decide which procedure works better for you.

You might want to get some heavy-duty zip ties, as well, if you live in an area with strong winds and heavy snowfall. Securing lights with the additional support could mean the difference between your beautiful light display continuing to shine or all your hard work falling apart. Zip ties come in matching colors, just like strands for a flawless view.

Step 7: Ladder Etiquette

Don't use an unsteady ladder with wobbly legs. Furthermore, never consider it a hanging Christmas lights on house challenge to conquer when it's raining or snowing!

using ladder to hang christmas lights

Hanging Christmas lights already poses some danger without exponentially increasing it.

If you use an extension ladder, make sure it's standing on level ground and leaning against the house, extended well beyond the eaves at an angle that feels the most secure. If the ladder leans against the gutter, you should put something heavier and solid inside where the ladder touches, such as brick, rock, or a piece of two by four for more reinforcement.

Remember, this isn't a comedy movie, so don't try crazy stunts like leaning too far over to reach an area. It's better to climb down and move the ladder instead. That way, you can enjoy Christmas eve with the kidlets in one piece.

Keep your hands free by carrying what you need around your waist in a tool belt or bag. Also, be careful when handling incandescent bulbs that can easily break by hitting the ladder or wall.

The ESFI recommends getting a wooden or fiberglass ladder because metal ones conduct electricity and make you more vulnerable.

Step 8: Time to Hang Your Christmas Lights

Pat yourself on the back. You're outside early in the season when the weather is mild and doesn't pose a threat. Additionally, you're prepared and eager.

hang Christmas lights outside

You can start with the trees, foliage, and other parts of your yard first, such as the garden, deck, and pathway. Or you can begin at the top of the house and work your way down, starting with the roofline, then the windows, door frame, and columns. Don't forget to add the extra illumination and design around your center focal point.

Pointers That Have You Decorating Like A Pro

  • Sometimes you can run extension cords at the top of the house under the eaves and out of sight. For example, if the lights are framing the garage, you don't want cords on the ground where cars come and go throughout the day to run over them. Furthermore, depending on your measurements and use of outlets, it may also work better logistically.
  • When decorating your foliage, use 100 lights per vertical foot to create medium coverage. If you want a brighter, denser display, use 200 per one and a half feet. Whether using net lights on shrubs or strands on trees, remember to string them through the branches so that they light up the interior, too, and create a full effect with more dimension.
  • Also, don't apply lights down to the ground, or it looks sloppy. Stop right where the leaves end, which gives a neater appearance while offering stability, too. Always tuck the connectors out of sight.
  • Using mini-lights for deciduous trees works better since the denseness of the tree has thinned. Spotlights work well to illuminate this kind of tree, as well. For large evergreen trees, C9, C7, and even G30 sizes work perfectly, or can even be mixed along with mini lights.
  • Remember to keep your color scheme consistent, as well as the spacing between wrapped strands around tree trunks or columns. Try wrapping light strands at an angle for a candy cane effect.
  • If you want to make your lighting pop, try doubling up with a second row and have those lights point in the opposite direction.
  • If by chance you want your Christmas lights on house extravaganza seen from a greater distance away---dare I say space---put two lights together, side by side at each point of fastening and find strands with lights positioned closer together on the strand. The denser your lights, the brighter they'll be.
  • Whenever you have excess lights at the end, string them vertically through other light strands on the backside so that they are not visible or fasten them with clips or duct tape in the same way.

Step 9: Store Your Lights with Care

You don't want to deal with a tangled mess when Christmas comes to town again. Pack the Christmas lights in groups that correspond with your decorating design and label the boxes. A year later, we often forget what seemed obvious to remember then.

no tangled christmas lights

Often people find themselves in a hurry to take everything down once the holidays are over. Unfortunately, it ends up costing a lot of aggravation and time the following year when it's time to take everything out again. We can all relate to the irritable moments that often accompany getting the outdoor holiday lights out to decorate.


Despite the annual turmoil involved, hanging Christmas lights bring fond memories to mind. One of the reasons is because we do it with those we love.

Ask an older child, friend, parent, or partner to help. It's more fun. It also creates a smoother operation. They can hand you lights, clips, or any tools you need, spot you on the ladder, and hold it securely for you.

So, it looks like you're ready to proceed. You'll have a great time decorating your house and lighting up the neighborhood with good cheer that everyone is sure to appreciate.

Parker Eakin
Parker Eakin


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