How to Hang Outdoor Christmas Lights

Christmas Lights in the Front Garden of a House
Andrew Fox / Getty Images
Overview
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Your task: to hang the holiday lights outdoors. Unlike many Christmas lighters and decorators before, you will resist the urge to be impulsive and buy too many lights, not follow instructions, install lights during a storm, stand on the very top of a ladder, or lean too far over and look at the lights while balancing on your sloping roof.

If this is your first time, keep it simple. You can always add to your holiday light collection each year, filling in with more rows, outlining architectural features, or wrapping lights around trees and branches That way, you get a feel for what works, what doesn't, what you like, and what you don't. And regardless of your strategy or long-term goals, following a few expert tips will help you get it right.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Camera or smart phone and printer
  • Ladder
  • Tape measure

Materials

  • Outdoor holiday lights
  • Plastic light clips
  • Plastic zip ties (as needed)
  • Outdoor extension cord

Instructions

  1. Take a Picture of Your House

    Take a few photos of the front of your house from the street or even across the street. Print out the best photo and use it to make a rough sketch of where you want to hang your Christmas lights as well as place any yard props, like holiday blow-mold decorations.

    Viewing your home from the perspective of passersby or drivers makes sense because it is from their vantage points that others will be viewing your holiday decorations and lights. Unless you dress up as an elf, hire the local high school glee club to perform, and hand out free cocoa, people probably won't be leaving their cars to see your holiday lights and yard display at close range.

    Stepping back and looking at your house will allow you to view it in its entirety—house, yard, porch, etc., along with rooflines, windows, and other architectural details that you might want to outline in lights.

    Curbside view of Mid-Century Modern house
    Lisa H. Taylor
  2. Measure Where the Lights Will Hang

    Use a tape measure to estimate the width or height of the area on which you wish to hang light strands. Make notations on the photo printout of your house, so you'll know how many feet of light strands are needed for each section.

    If you'd like to avoid an extra trip up the ladder and if your roofline is flat, another way of estimating the width or length of the area you want to hang lights is to measure the width of the house at the bottom. While not precise down to the exact inch, it gives you better than a rough idea of how many feet of light strands are needed.

    measuring roof line
    Lisa H. Taylor
  3. Make Sure Lights Are for Indoor/Outdoor Use

    When buying light strands, look for a box marked for "indoor/outdoor use." This means they are made to withstand the elements. You don't want the more-fragile indoor tree lights decorating something outside, only to have it stop working in a week or two. Also, use lights that are labeled with "UL," indicating they were tested for safety by Underwriters Laboratories.

    Box of LED holiday lights
    Lisa H. Taylor
  4. Buy Plastic Light Clips

    Do yourself a favor and pick up some plastic light clips for all of your outdoor lights. These handy and inexpensive devices not only save time when putting up and taking down the lights; they also prevent damage to your house materials because there's no need for nails, staples or other conventional fasteners.

    These flexible plastic clips can hold any type of light strand, including icicles and strands of the larger C7 and C9 bulbs. Because they aren't hard plastic, these versatile clips should hold up for several years.

    Plastic clips for hanging holiday lights
    Lisa H. Taylor
  5. Inspect and Test the Lights

    Look for any broken or missing bulbs while unpacking the lights. Also inspect the cord for worn or cut insulation or damaged wires. Disentangle the light strands and cords.

    Plug in each strand to an electrical outlet to make sure all the lights are working. Many strands come with replacement bulbs (hopefully you've kept spares in a place where you can find them).

    Energy-efficient LED lights cost more to buy than conventional lights, but LEDs last longer and easily pay for themselves in energy savings over time. Do not mix LEDs with incandescent strands on the same circuit.

    A strand of LED holiday lights
    Lisa H. Taylor
  6. Attach the Clips to the Strings

    Snap the plastic hangers onto the light strands, as directed by the clip manufacturer. Space the clips 6 to 12 inches apart, based on the application and how straight you want the strands to be.

    Clamping light clip to light strand
    Lisa H. Taylor
  7. Affix the Clips to the Roofline

    Hang the lights by attaching the plastic clips onto rain gutters, eaves, siding, or railings, as applicable.

    Overhead view of lights attached by clips
    Lisa H. Taylor
  8. Take Up Excess for Even Spacing

    Because light strands come with a foot or so of excess unlit wire, loosely roll up and clip this extra cord into one of the unused portions of the clip. Then roll the wire so that the light spacing is even. Space it according to the number of lights; for instance, for every four or so bulbs you would attach it to a light clip.

    Tuck cords into roof gutter
    Lisa H. Taylor
  9. Attach Lights With Plastic Zip Ties (as needed)

    For attaching light strings to areas like balconies or porch railings, plastic zip ties also work well. Zip ties are strong, weather-resistant, adjustable and easy to remove.

    Zipties for attaching light strands to railings
    Lisa H. Taylor
  10. Plug in the Lights

    Plug the male end of the last strand into an outdoor-rated extension cord. Then plug the extension cord into an outdoor outlet, preferably controlled by an on/off switch, automatic timer, or app.

    Always plug outdoor lights into a GFCI-protected outlet, which help prevent shock due to moisture and other common causes of short circuits.

    Extension cord
    Lisa H. Taylor