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How to Hang String Lights

Create style while illuminating your backyard or patio with outdoor string lighting. Just follow these 7 easy steps!

Yvonne Harbison
Yvonne Harbison
Green trees in distance, round bulb string lights glowing.

One of the easiest outdoor lighting solutions is the clever and stylish use of outdoor string lights. String lights can be colorful and seasonal, or they can be simple white and glowing yellow, whichever you prefer to illuminate your yard. There is no complicated wiring, no cutting into the wall, nothing fully permanent about the installation when it comes to how to hang string lights, making them a quick DIY outdoor lighting project.

If you’re wondering how to hang outdoor string lights, keep reading. We’ve collected the best design ideas for hanging outdoor string lights and put together everything you need to know to introduce the look to your backyard or patio.

Where to Hang String Lights

Part of the appeal of outdoor string lights, whether multicolored string lights or the vintage look of edison string lights, is that the placement and layout design is entirely up to you. When planning how to hang string lights, consider the following questions:

  • Where do you want the extra light?
  • Where will the lights look best?
  • Where will the lights safely hang and still reach the power supply?

The answers will be unique to the space and add to the custom style of the finished look. String lights can be placed virtually anywhere in the yard or around the property. Think creatively and look at the areas of your yard that need the extra light and whimsy.

String lights hanging on privacy wall of patio, plants, lounge chair.

Some ideas on where to hang string lights include:

  • Along the fence line.
  • Between trees.
  • Around a tree trunk and into the branches.
  • Between walls.
  • On patio railings and balustrades.
  • Up pergola posts and across overhead beams.
  • Along a single wall, as a hanging grid or an overhead edging.
  • Installed on permanent yard or patio posts.

Another good do-it-yourself idea for how to hang string lights on patio and walkway edges is to create moveable installation posts. These can be brought in from the weather as needed, or moved around the yard to create different nighttime looks, effects, or directed pathways. 

The base of a moveable post is easily made from a decorative planter, or a bucket with handles for a more rustic look. The post is then centered within the planter using support blocks or a grid of sturdy tape, and a cement base is poured in to hold the post in place. Once the cement has dried and cured, the supports can be removed and the post is ready to hang a string of lights from, with the rest of the base easily reserved as a planter.

The depth of the cement layer will depend on the height and weight of the post. A 4” x 4” x 8’ post will require a deeper layer of cement to accommodate the additional height and weight of the post than a post only 3’ tall. A deeper layer of cement will make the planter or bucket heavier, which is useful against the wind and weather but makes them harder to move.

For shorter light strings, another solution to how to hang outdoor string lights is to use plastic zip ties to attach the light string to the center pole of a patio umbrella and then hang any remaining lights creatively woven around and zip tied to the umbrella’s support arms. To keep cords neat and out of the way, use battery powered light strings, or tape the power supply cord to the ground if it has to cross any walkways.

Lighting Options With String Lights

Outdoor string lights are available in different colors, lengths, bulb shapes, and even different types of bulbs. One of the first considerations in how to hang string lights is the kind of string lights you’ll be working with. You need to know what lights you’ll be working with to be sure they’re all the same light quality, color, type, or design.

Illustration of sun behind a cloud and rain falling.

When selecting outdoor string lights, pay attention to the location rating of the light string. Some strings are weather sensitive and cannot be left outdoors when it is raining without damaging the strings. For hanging in uncovered outdoor areas, such as along fences, look for wet location rated lights. For other areas which are enclosed or protected, such as along patio ceilings or covered porches, wet rated string lights will do well. Do not use string lights outdoors that are only rated for dry locations.

String lights commonly come in different lengths, such as 25 foot string lights, up to 48’, 100’, and as much as 300’ long strings. The number of light bulbs per each length will change depending on how far apart the lights are spaced out, referred to as socket spacing. The narrower the socket spacing between lights on a longer string, the more lights on the string, and the higher the number of bulbs. This influences how dim or bright the space will seem, so have an idea of the look you want before you choose the type of light string.

Blue lights, multi-colored lights and clear lights.

String lights are available in multiple colors, from clear bulb string lights with their bright white lights, to single color strands such as blue, green, or red, or strands with alternating colors. Frosted bulbs filter the light to a softer glow, so it depends on the effect you want to create in the area the lights will be installed.

The type of bulb will also influence the brightness. It’s important to pay attention to the bulb shape and the bulb base size to be sure all pieces fit and operate safely. These are often influenced by the type of bulb it is. There are two main types of bulb to choose from, either an LED light bulb or an incandescent bulb.

The Basics on the Bulbs:

  • Incandescents are usually found in colors with a more traditional yellow or warmer-toned glow.
  • Incandescent bulbs can be less expensive to purchase than LEDs. 
  • Incandescents use a higher wattage per bulb and therefore require more electricity.
  • LEDs offer a bright, clear light that uses less electricity and boasts a longer lifespan.
  • LEDs are available in multiple colors, whether for seasonal use or year round.

Can Multiple Outdoor Light Strings Be Attached Together?

One of the appealing aspects of how to hang string lights is that many light strings can attach end to end with another string of lights. This lets you plan outdoor lighting over a larger area without having to install an additional power supply. It is important to keep in mind that, when dealing with electricity, the power at the starting connection will step down the further the electricity has to travel, which can result in dimmer lights at the end of the light strings.

To help maintain a more consistent color and brightness, pay attention to the wire gauge of the light strings being connected, particularly when considering a longer string, such as the 150’ or 300’ length light strings. For longer strings or for chaining multiple strings together, look for a wider gauge wire, such as a 16 gauge rather than an 18 gauge light string. This will help ensure a more consistent flow of electricity from end to end.

Lady laying on bench on balcony, pink sunset and string lights hanging.

How to Hang String Lights

Once you have the most important details in place, you know where the lights are to be installed and have the lights on hand, it is time to get them installed. Whether you’re looking for how to hang string lights on covered patios or along a fenceline, the basic steps are the same, and the project shouldn’t take very long to complete yourself.

Materials for Hanging String Lights

  • String lights
  • Guide wire
  • Screw hooks, or eye hooks
  • Open hooks
  • Cable clips
  • Zip ties
  • Wall anchors

Required Tools

  • Ladder
  • Tape measure
  • Screwdriver/drill

Step 1

Measure the distance of the area where the lights will be hung and total it to determine how many light strings will be needed. Include the distance from the power source to the installation point.

  • If they will be hung in straight lines around a perimeter, measure the perimeter. 
  • If they will be installed in a zig-zag pattern over a patio, or along pergola cross beams, measure the distance between each planned installation point. 

Step 2

Measure the cable length and guide wire to fit the necessary distance. This includes cutting the guide wires, and installing the snap hooks and cable clips to the ends of the wires.

Step 3

Install the screw hooks, or eye hooks, into the installation points, according to your layout design. This could mean installing the hooks into a fence post, along a patio overhang, or into the wall of the house. Use the appropriate screw type for the location, such as including wall anchors for installing into the side of a stucco wall.

Step 4

Attach the snap hooks on the guide wire to the screw hooks and hang the guide wire across the planned light layout. Tighten the ends using the cable clips to keep the guide wire at a taut length. 

For a layout in a wheel-spoke pattern, use an open hook in the center that can connect multiple snap hooks and hold tension.

Step 5

Hang the light strings from the guide wire. Use the clips on the light strings to attach the string, and zip ties in between to prevent the light string from sagging along the full length of the wire if the clips are spaced too far apart.

Step 6

Attach the light strings to each other, end to end. Ensure all bulbs are correct, the strings fit the distance without stretching, and the layout is correct. 

Step 7

Plug the light string into the power outlet and enjoy!

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