How to Hang Christmas Lights Outside

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

Your first task this holiday season: hanging the Christmas lights outdoors. Unlike others, you will resist the urge to be impulsive and buy too many strands, not follow instructions, install lights during a storm, stand on the very top of a ladder, or lean too far over your sloping roof. Or, at least we hope so with our help.

If this is your first time decorating the exterior of your home for the holidays, keep it simple. You can always add to your light collection each year, filling it in with more rows, outlining architectural features, or wrapping lights around trees and branches. But, by starting small, you'll be able to get a feel for what works and what doesn't. Get ready to be the prettiest home on the block this Christmas.

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Watch Now: How to Wrap Trees With Outdoor Lights

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Camera or smart phone
  • 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

    Before you do anything else, head to the curb and snap a few photos of the front of your house from the street. Viewing your home from the perspective of your neighbors or people driving by will help you make sense of your design plan and allow you to take in your home from the vantage point of those that will actually be enjoying your holiday handiwork.

    Consider your house in its entirety—obviously, you'll want to put some lights along the roofline, but what about the porch, windows, and around your yard? Keep in mind that everywhere is fair game!

    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 where you're hoping to hang your light strands. 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 your house at its base. While not precise to the inch, it gives you a decent idea of how many feet or strands of lights are needed.

    measuring roof line
    Lisa H. Taylor
  3. Ensure Lights Are for Outdoor Use

    When buying lights, look for a box marked for outdoor (or indoor/outdoor) use. This will ensure they can withstand a variety of outdoor elements like rain, snow, and frozen temperatures—you don't want to hang up more fragile indoor tree lights outdoors, only to have them die out in a week or two! When purchasing your lights, it's worthwhile to also look for the label "UL" on any box you're considering—this indicates that they were tested for safety by Underwriters Laboratories.

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

    For an easy time putting up (and taking down!) your outdoor Christmas lights, do yourself a favor and purchase a few sets of light clips. These handy and inexpensive pieces not only help you save time while decorating, but they also help prevent damage to your house, eliminating the need for nails, staples, or other conventional fasteners. Bonus: These flexible plastic clips can hold any type of light strand, including icicles and strands of the larger C7 and C9 bulbs, and should hold up for several seasons.

    Plastic clips for hanging holiday lights
    Lisa H. Taylor
  5. Test Your Lights Before Hanging

    Save yourself a ton of time (noot to mention potential disappointment) by testing each strand of lights before hanging it on your home. In addition, give each set of lights. a quick once-over, keeping an eye out for any broken or missing bulbs, which can still cause issues down the line, even if the lights are currently working. Many strands come with replacement bulbs, so if you're unpacking new sets of lights, set those aside somewhere you can find them if replacements are necessary.

  6. Attach the Clips to the Strings

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

    Clamping light clip to light strand
    Lisa H. Taylor
  7. Attach the Clips to Your Home

    Hang your lights by attaching the plastic clips onto your gutters, siding, railings, roofline, or anywhere else that will help your holiday design come to life. This is where that image you took at the beginning is helpful. If you want to avoid having to climb up and down your ladder to continually check your design, keep that shot on hand as a blueprint.

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

    Because light strands come with a foot or so of excess unlit wire, loosely roll up and clip the extra cord into one of the unused portions of the clip, rolling the wire so that the light spacing is even.

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

    If you live in an area that experiences harsh winter weather, consider adding a few zip ties to your lighting design for extra security. High winds, heavy snow, and ice storms can all damage your carefully-constructed holiday light design, so think of the zip ties as an added line of defense against that. You can often find them in different colors, too (like black, white, grey, and more), so matching them to your light strand will be super simple.

    Zipties for attaching light strands to railings
    Lisa H. Taylor
  10. Turn on 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