There’s nothing like hanging out in the backyard during summer nights. But, not in the gloom of night and eerie dark. If that sounds like your backyard, you should learn how to hang outdoor string lights.
You might worry that hanging outdoor string lights is a job best left to professionals. And, while there are companies that specialize in creating and hanging lights, learning how to hang outdoor string lights in your backyard is not that difficult. All you’ll need is the right tools and a little bit of time to design the outdoor ambiance of your dreams.
You Can’t Just Pick the Prettiest Ones
Learning how to hang outdoor string lights is more than learning the difference between an Edison light bulb and a globe light bulb. You have to figure out how much string light to buy, how you’re going to power the lights, and where to hang your outdoor string lights.
Planning and plotting
Picking a place to hang string lights is not as simple as saying, “I want lights that go from A to B.” Start by figuring out how much of the outdoor space you want to cover. Are you lighting the whole backyard or just the deck?
Then you need to figure out your “look.” Do you want to hang the lights in a simple “V” shape, or do you want lights that zig and zag? How high do you want the lights? Do you want them to drape and hang down loosely? Or do you prefer lights that are high and pulled tautly?
Your answers to these questions will impact what kind of lights you buy, how much you buy, and how you hold the lights up.
It’s not just how; it’s where
Check out where you want to hang your string lights. If you’ve got a bunch of trees, a deck, or even pergola, hanging string lights is pretty straightforward. You’ve got built-in places to use as hanging supports.
But, if you don’t have these “natural” mounts, don’t despair. You can buy (or even DIY) hanging poles that you can place anywhere in your backyard to create a one-of-a-kind string light pattern.
Don’t worry if you don’t have grass or dirt to stick the poles in. Simply put them in a deep bucket and fill the bucket with rocks.
Measure twice, buy once
With your final design in hand, calculate how much string light you need to buy. While string lights are available in several different lengths, there are a few standard sizes. These are usually 24, 47, 100, and 165 feet long, although some are 300 feet long.
Keep in mind that string lights are designed to be, well, strung together. This allows you to create a multitude of patterns and designs without being limited to one long string light.
That said, while string lights are designed to plug into each other (and then into a light source), you should never string more than the manufacturer’s recommended number together.
The easiest way to figure out how much string light to buy is to use twine. Cut a length of twine that corresponds with the length of string light you want to buy (or think you want to buy). Then, start measuring.
Take the twine and string it in the spots you want the lights. Don’t forget to measure from the plug of the string light to your power source.
Don’t worry about the measurement being perfect. The idea is to get a rough estimate of how much string light you need to purchase.
Access to Electricity
Many homes have an outdoor outlet that you can plug the string lights right into. You can use the plug on the string light. Or, if you don’t have enough slack, you can use an extension cord. Just make sure the extension cord you use is rated for outdoor use.
Also, do not use extension cords like Clark Griswold:
Make sure that you do not exceed the recommended number of string lights per outlet. You don’t want to start a fire.
If for some reason you don’t have an outdoor outlet, you’ll need to find another way to power your lights. You could use battery-operated string lights, or you can plug the outdoor lights into an indoor outlet using an extension cord. There are also solar string lights.
Consider using a trip guard over the extension cord and don’t forget to unplug the lights when you’re done using them so you can close the door!
Is this forever or just for now?
The last thing you need to consider when hanging your string lights is whether you’re keeping them up year-round or hanging them for a one-time party. Knowing how long your lights are staying up for impacts which lights you pick. More importantly, it decides what you use to hang your string lights.
For example, if you’re hanging the lights for one party, consider draping them around trees or deck railings instead of screwing hooks all over the place. Choose lights that have plastic bulbs, not glass. Plastic is lighter and easier to keep up. If you’re worried the lights might fall, use some painter’s tape to secure the lights in place.
But, if the string lights are staying up year-round, you’ll need to consider more permanent mounts. These supports tend to be heavy-duty and often require drilling holes into walls and trees.
Once you’ve figured out all the details, it’s time to actually pick the lights that fit your criteria and we have a handy guide for finding the best outdoor string lights to help you do just that!
How to Hang Outdoor String Lights (And Where!)
You’ve got your plan, your string lights, and you’re on a mission. It’s time to hang those string lights.
Before we detail the specifics of how to hang outdoor string lights, you should understand that when we talk about hanging string lights, we are talking about two similar, but slightly different techniques.
In the first method, you hang the string lights directly on a mount, hook, or support. This is great for short-term hanging but is fine for long-term decorating as well. The critical detail is that the lights go directly from support to support. This means the string lights are supporting their weight on the hooks.
The other method is a little more sturdy and is better for long-term hanging, although there’s no reason you can’t use it for one-time use when you want to guarantee the lights don’t fall.
Instead of hanging the lights directly on the supports, string a wire or cable between the supports, then hang the lights on the wire. You can drape the lights around the wire, or pull them taut and secure them to the wire with a zip tie.
Using a wire between the mounts gives your string lights more support in case it’s a windy night (or you’re afraid someone might yank the lights) since they aren’t supporting their weight on the hooks.
Gather your supplies
Depending on how and where you’re hanging your string lights, you’ll need a variety of supplies.
If you’re hanging your lights for a short time, you won’t need as many supplies. You can probably get away with draping your lights and may only need painter’s tape to help hold things in place.
But, if you’re doing something more permanent, or want to make sure the lights stay up for the whole party, you’re going to need something a little more durable than painter’s tape.
Many experts (yes, there are experts who do nothing but hang outdoor lights for a living) suggest a variety of mounts to help support your outdoor string lights. These include hooks, zip ties, carabiners, and wires. And, oh yes, a drill to attach most of these supports.
While you could purchase all of those things individually, or pick and choose, you can also buy a kit that includes everything you could possibly need.
Before you hang your string lights, make sure to remove the bulbs, especially if they’re glass bulbs. Not only will this protect your string lights if something falls while you’re hanging them, taking out the glass bulbs will make the strings lighter while you hang them.
How to hang outdoor string lights on a tree
If you’re doing a permanent set-up, you will likely have to drill supports into your tree.
Start by figuring out where on the tree you want to place the hook. Don’t forget to take into account whether you want drapey or taut string lights.
Mark the spot where you want the hook, then drill the hole (or holes) for the support. Install the hook and make sure it’s secure before and after you hang the lights.
How to hang outdoor string lights on a tree without drilling
If you don’t want to drill holes into your tree, consider draping the string lights around the branches. You can use zip ties to secure the lights to the tree.
How to hang outdoor string lights on the deck railing
On most deck railings, you’re merely wrapping the lights around the rail. However, if you want to make sure the lights stay in place, you can secure them with painters tape.
Or, consider using a staple gun. Just make sure you use a staple gun explicitly designed for wood. The regular one you use in your office just won’t cut it!
How to hang outdoor string lights on anything else
The process for hanging outdoor string lights on pretty much any other material is the same as hanging them on a tree. The difference is that you need to get the right mounting material.
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Light
Now that you know how to hang outdoor string lights, you’ll be able to create a backyard that’s the envy of the entire neighborhood. That’s great for nights when you want to barbecue with a large crowd. But, it’s also perfect for when you want to hang out with a few close friends and want to take advantage of the fabulous weather.
Whatever your reason, you’ve got the tools and skills you need to hang those string lights. So, get hanging and happy backyarding!