How to Hang Outdoor String Lights (And Make Them Look Good)

How to Hang Outdoor String Lights (And Make Them Look Good)

Outdoor lights add instant ambiance to any porch, deck or yard, allowing you to extend summer evenings well into the night. But discovering the simplest, safest, strongest and most aesthetic way to hang them can be difficult.

To help you determine your ideal lighting setup, I spoke with some of our experts at Wirecutter to get their suggestions on the best ways to hang outdoor lighting, mistakes to avoid when hanging them, and how to make them look their best.

What should you use to hang outdoor string lights?

Close-up of a lamp on a string of outdoor lights hanging from a fence.
Photo: Sarah Whitman

If you follow the product information for choosing our outdoor string lights, the Newhouse Lighting 48ft 11W Weatherproof Outdoor String Light, you can hang your lights using “cup hooks, guide wires or zip ties”.

To narrow down those options, I asked Doug Mahoney, senior staff writer and resident expert on all things home improvement, what he would do. Stainless steel spiral hooks (or cup hooks, which are almost the same) are what he uses for several reasons. “It’s easy to install; If you have enough hand strength, you don’t even need to pre-drill the holes, he explained. “They actually hug the cord and keep it away from the house a little. They also look better than an angled nail or screw. Some even have a little clip, like a carabiner, to hold the cord securely and make it easier to hang lights from a porch ceiling, which is not You can do it with nails or screws. Plus, the small threads won’t leave a gap behind after you remove the hooks. Just make sure you’re securing them to a solid surface, and “give them a gentle tug to make sure they’re secure,” Doug added.

This sturdy, tall string of Edison-style glass bulbs is the best we’ve found for illuminating (and dressing up) any outdoor space.

If you don’t want to use hardware, zip ties and fishing line can also handle the job discreetly. Senior writer Rachel Ciricola used the former to quickly and easily attach her outdoor lights to the underside of a deck, and found that if your tie matches the color of the string lights’ wire, it should camouflage itself nicely with its end cut off. . Doug said he found 8-inch zip ties to be the most useful and durable size for this and other projects.

When writer Sarah Whitman tested five different strings of lights for our outdoor and backyard lighting review, she chose fishing line to mount the string of lights on a wicker fence, looped it through the mounting holes on the lights and then wove the fishing line directly into the wicker several times around it. “The fishing line is clear, so it’s less noticeable, and it won’t rust like some metal hardware,” she explained. “It’s really strong, because it’s designed to pull fish in without breaking.”

As for what not to do: Doug warned that common nails “are more likely to stain your siding” because they’re usually not made of stainless steel or galvanized metal, and that you shouldn’t try to cheat with picture hooks, which “won’t work well with Wind or even someone hitting the lights.

Where to hang outdoor string lights?

In a small space, you may not have a lot of options on where to place lights. But if you have some flexibility, different places are best for different purposes, such as adding functional lighting, defining a space, or simply improving the aesthetic appeal. For Rachel, the pendant lights below the deck added a welcoming feel to a previously uncomfortable space. Doug, ever the craftsman, gathered some 10-foot branches, buried them in the ground around his yard, and used them as light posts for a great rustic look.

A string of outdoor lights hangs wrapped around a tree trunk.
Photo: Doug Mahoney

Even if you’re not burying your branches yourself, running lights between two posts or trees is a popular and good-looking option. If you go this route, consider using a light chain suspension kit, which Doug described as a “nice, all-in-one” option, to help get the job done. “What these kits do is they attach a taut wire between two poles and then you can hang lights from the wire,” he explained. “It takes stress off the light wire, and is an effective way to maintain the proper slope, but without stretching and fatiguing the lines.” (Speaking of not taxing the lines, the manufacturers also recommend our selection of outdoor string lights: “To keep multiple strings together over long distances, use electrical tape to secure the plug connections.”)

How to space string lights evenly

One of the most frustrating parts of hanging lights is finding out that you don’t have enough lights to do the job halfway through. To avoid this, Sarah recommends using “a piece of fishing line or string to map out the area where you want to hang your lights, complete with any stylistic depressions you want to make and enough wire to reach the outlet, then measure that string with a ruler or tape measure.”

As a next step, Doug suggested “spreading out the lights underneath where you’re going to hang them” before actually doing it, which will save you time and effort in the long run. “This means you can put all the hooks or hangers up at once and then turn on the lights, which is a faster way to do it, rather than putting up a hook and then hanging the light on it before moving on to the next line,” he said.

A portable and convenient (if somewhat less rigid) set to install and remove, these string lights are a good alternative if you’re looking for something to hang in a smaller area.

How to Hang Outdoor String Lights Safely

Today’s outdoor string lights don’t tend to give off enough heat to pose a fire risk, but Sarah cautioned against wrapping anything around the cords or hanging anything else on them which could weaken the cord over time. (All of the string lights we recommend come with hanging holes or hooks so you don’t have to use the wire itself as a hanging mechanism.)

Sarah hasn’t had any problems with the plastic lights breaking, but she advised taking the weather and other considerations into account when setting up the lights to avoid potential damage.

“The instructions that come with the lights should tell you how many strands they can be connected to — so don’t exceed that,” Doug stressed, and to make sure the lights are connected to a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet. Raschel’s lights are physically plugged into a GFCI outlet via a third-party smart plug choice, the TP-Link Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug Mini (EP10), which allows them to use an app or voice commands to turn the lights off and on.

This smart plug is easy to use, cheap, and small enough to fit on furniture. It can perform basic smart plug tasks reliably and can track the amount of time you use electrical appliances.

“We invested in nicer, more comfortable furniture and put in string lights, and it’s a more relaxing space,” Rachel said. “We really want to sit there now… and have other people sit with us!”

This article was edited by Mark Smyrniotis and Anne-Marie Conti.

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