How to hang outdoor Christmas lights

Written by the Square One team

Updated July 3, 2024 | Published November 17, 2018

In the midst of the darkness and cold of winter, the Christmas holidays offer a bright spot. The festivities are colorful, including gaily wrapped packages, trees glittering with decorations and homes sparkling with lights.

Christmas lights

Christmas lights, despite all the work involved in hanging them, continue to be popular with revelers, because they delight not only the family but friends, neighbors and passers-by with their brightness and shine. An attractive light display can bring a smile to even the curmudgeonliest viewer.

So, if you celebrate Christmas, don’t be a Grinch. Turn your home or apartment into a holiday delight with the help of these tips for selecting and hanging holiday lights.

Types of outdoor lights to choose from

There is a variety of lights available to decorate your domicile, so select the type that meets your needs. Be certain to purchase waterproof, outdoor lights for outdoor use:

Conventional bulbs

The traditional Christmas bulbs come in two sizes, C7 and C9, which are larger in size and wattage. They come in clear and frosted styles and in short strings of 25 or long strings of 100, according to Don’t attach more than three of the shorter strings to each other and don’t put longer strings together. The conventional bulbs are screwed in at the base and the strands are designed so that one faulty bulb won’t influence the others. They are available with inner fuses that prevent extra current on the strands.

Miniature lights

These smaller lights cost less and use less power than conventional bulbs. They usually come in strings of 50 or 100 bulbs with the bulbs arranged in series. If one bulb fails, the entire series goes out, unless there is a shunt inside that keeps them lit. Nonetheless, replace burnt out lights quickly so the string’s voltage doesn’t increase. You’ll also need splitters if you want to string more than three strands of these lights together.

LED lights

The latest lighting trend is to use the more environmentally friendly LED (light-emitting diode) lights. They conserve energy and reduce the wattage needed to produce light, although they cost more than the traditional bulbs. For example, a C9 bulb requires 10 watts to light, while the same-sized LED bulb only needs a single watt.

Landscape net lighting

These LED lights are connected to a mesh net that can be thrown over a bush so you no longer need to weave strands of lights in and around branches.

Choosing the best outdoor christmas lights

Choosing Christmas lights isn’t rocket science, but there are certainly a few basic things to keep in mind. This short video from Canadian Tire explains the basics of choosing Christmas light styles.

Other supplies

The proper outlet

For safety reasons, you should only plug your outdoor lights into a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet. A GFCI outlet will shut the lights down automatically if there is too much current. Have an electrician instal it or purchase one at a local hardware store. Do not run cords out of the windows of your home to provide power to your lights.

A measuring tape

Before you hang lights measure the total length of the strands that you’ll need to go around windows and along the roofline and walkways. Don’t forget to include the distance to the outlet!

A ladder

Be sure that it is tall enough and stable enough to support you as you hang the lights in unusual spots.

Light clips

Don’t use nails or staples to hold your light strands in place. The pros use light clips that come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be easily attached to eaves, railings, etc. They can be readily purchased at a hardware or home store.

Extension cords

Ensure that your cords are rated for outdoor use. Place them above the ground or spots where snow and water collect. If they do cross walkways, tape them to the ground so people don’t trip over them. Try to restrict them to low-traffic areas.

Exterior christmas lights installation and maintenance

Test the lights before hanging

Power preview. Before hanging lights, plug them in to ensure that all the bulbs are lit and that they are working.

Untangle any knots

No knots. Untangle the strings of lights you are planning to hang before you step onto the ladder. Roll them into a ball for easy use. There is nothing worse than hanging three-metres above ground as you try to pull knots out of a string of lights.

Install with help and take your time

Task times two. It’s always safer to have someone working with you outdoors, especially if you’ll be climbing high and could fall or injure yourself.

No rush. Hanging lights generally takes more time than you anticipate, so estimate how long you think it will take and multiply by two for a more accurate prediction.

Make a plan

Have a strategy. To string lights around the trunks of deciduous trees, begin at the base and wind the lights up the trunk. For evergreens, however, suggests that you start at the top, zigzagging the strands through the centre of the tree, moving wider as you move downward.

Space your lights out. For smaller homes, space bulbs between 15 and 30 centimetres apart. On larger homes, spacing should be between 30 and 45 centimetres.

Here’s hoping that just thinking about Christmas lights puts you in the holiday spirit!

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