How to Hang String Lights Outdoors
Outdoor string lights are a cinch to put up if you have the perfectly positioned trees or fence. If you don’t have trees, a fence or another tall outdoor object, it doesn’t take much — just a little more time and a few additional supplies — to set up any outdoor space for cafe lights. Here’s how to hang string lights over your deck, patio, balcony, garden or anywhere else you’d like a little extra glow.
- Commercial-grade string lights
- Outdoor extension cord (if you don’t have an exterior outlet where you need one)
- Tape measure
- Pencil or painters tape
- Metal hooks and eyes
- String light suspension kit (includes wire cable and suspension hardware like turnbuckles, snap hooks, lock clamps and pad eyes with screws )
- Wire cutters
- 10-foot-long wooden posts or 10-foot-long metal poles (electrical metal tubing, aka EMT or thin-wall, is available at home improvement stores in 10-foot lengths, which you may need to cut)
- Nails or screws (If attaching to a fence)
- Sturdy planters or weighted buckets filled with concrete and a PVC pipe slot in center (one planter or bucket for each post)
- 18-inch-long metal rebar stakes (one for each pole; needed only if using EMT and mounting lights over a lawn)
- Cable ties
1. Choose where to hang your outdoor lights. Pick a spot outside where you’d like to hang your string lights and identify a power source. If you don’t have an exterior outlet where you need one, be sure to have an outdoor extension cord handy.
2. Measure for length and roughly choose your light configuration. Before purchasing string lights, run a tape measure along the distance you’d like to hang lights, including any zigzags or crisscrosses for the configuration. This can be a fairly rough estimate, such as three times across a 25-foot-wide patio; just get a sense of the length of lights you need.
Commercial-grade string lights often come with the cord and bulbs sold separately. For the cord, you can choose among gauges ranging from 14 to 18, and among standard lengths like 24 feet, 48 feet, 100 feet, 165 feet and even up to 300 or more feet. Each strand specifies which bulbs are compatible with the sockets. Choose a thicker 14-gauge cord if you plan to purchase longer strands of lights. Choose between long-lasting LED bulbs or traditional incandescent bulbs, which have a warmer glow. When you’re buying the bulbs, get a few extra to have on hand for replacements.
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Commercial-grade string lights are available from lighting stores, garden and home improvement stores, and online.
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1. Identify where mounting support is needed. Lay out your string light cords along the ground — or have a friend help you hold them up — in the configuration you’ve chosen. Mark an X with a pencil or place a piece of painters tape where you need support to hold them up.
Trees, fences, porches, pergola roofs or the eaves of your house are perfect existing supports if they’re in the right place. If they are, mark where you’ll need to install mounting hooks. Don’t have perfectly positioned natural supports? Learn how to hang outdoor string lights in a backyard without trees below.
- Hanging without a wire: To hang the patio lights without a wire, screw a cup hook into the wall, fence, pergola or tree trunk to use as mounting. (You may need to drill a hole first, before putting in the screw.)
- Hanging with a wire: If you’re using a wire, you can purchase a wire hanging kit that comes with a cable wire and suspension hardware (turnbuckles, snap hooks, pad eyes and lock clamps). Install according to the instructions included with the kit.
Most commercial-grade patio lights come with clips attached to the top of the bulb socket or the wire above the bulb. If you used a mounting wire, clip the lights onto the wire.
Once all lights are up, once again plug the string lights into the exterior outlet or extension cord plugged into an outlet. You can use electrical staples to keep the extension cord tight against the wall of a house or down a post.
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If you don’t have walls or trees in just the right spot to hang your string lights, you’ll need to put a little extra effort into making supports for your patio lights.
Along a wood fence. If you have a wood fence that isn’t high enough for the lights, attach 10-foot-long wooden posts with cup hooks on the top to bump up the height of the lights. Space the wooden posts along the fence posts, or roughly 8 feet apart. Secure the wooden posts to the fence posts by side-nailing (nailing at an angle), or use a drill to secure them with screws into the fence.
On a deck or concrete patio. If you don’t have any natural supports available in a yard, a common solution is to put posts, each with a hook on the top, into sturdy planters filled with gravel or buckets filled with concrete and a PVC pipe (large enough to fit the post) slot in the center. Position planters or buckets around the perimeter of a patio and string lights between the posts.
The drawback of this method is that you need to deal with heavy planters or buckets filled with concrete. If the lights are strung over a larger patio, they will have a substantial pull on the supports, which can cause buckets to tip over.
If you’d like more tension in the string light cords, use a thicker wooden post (2-by-2 or larger), or use half-inch electrical metal tubing plus a tube clamp at the top for attaching a hook.
On a lawn. If you’re installing lights over a lawn or anywhere else where you can drive a stake into the ground, an easier method is to use 10-foot-long electrical metal tubing poles, and secure each one into the ground with a metal rebar stake. To do this, buy an 18-inch-long rebar stake for each EMT pole, position the poles where needed for support, drive half the stake into the ground with a hammer and slide the hollow EMT pole onto it.
A simple, inexpensive way to attach the string lights to the EMT poles is with cable ties. It’s easiest with a buddy holding the lights up for you so you can work your way across the yard and attach the cable ties as you go. If the EMT pole has a hole in the end, as some do, thread a cable tie through the hole and the end of the pole, and then pull it to form a loose loop around the cord of the lights. In general, you don’t want to tightly pull the cable tie against the cord of the string lights, as this can cause the lights to short-circuit.
If the EMT pole does not have a hole at the end, use one cable tie to create a loop (fasten the cable tie to itself around the cord of the string lights) and use another to attach the cable tie loop holding the string lights to the top of the EMT pole.
If you have an existing structure, hanging string lights is easy. Just attach cup hooks every yard or so along a covered patio, porch or pergola. You can crisscross the lights or follow the line of the roof or porch beams.