Give your al fresco nights a glow up
Want to recreate that feel-good ambiance you get from being outdoors after dark at your favorite restaurant’s patio? String lights can be used in your yard year-round to infuse spaces big and small with a twinkling glow. What’s more, they give you the opportunity to actually use your space long after the sun sets. So use this guide to learn how to hang string lights from posts, trees, or any other spot in your backyard.
Difficulty: Easy (1/5)
This is an easy home improvement project that can instantly update the look of your outdoor space.
Total project time: Less than two hours
Hanging string lights should take less than two hours to complete, but if you need to add posts or hang the lights over a large space, it can take a bit longer.
Cost: about $4 to $30 per strand of string lights
String lights vary in price depending on the type you buy. You can find cheap white holiday lights for as little as $4 and more expensive Edison-style bulbs for closer to $30. If you need to purchase tools and materials, such as posts to hang the lights on, your costs will go up.
You will need different materials depending on the area in which you plan on hanging the string lights.
Hanging lights on a post: Cup hooks, zip ties, cable kit (optional), extension cord
Hanging lights on a tree: String lights, cup hooks, cable kit (optional), extension cord
Hanging lights on a house or building: Vinyl siding clips, s-clips, or anchor kit specific to the exterior material
Hanging lights on a deck railing: Staples or adhesive hooks
Hanging lights on a fence: Finishing nails, cup hooks, or adhesive hooks
The type of tools you will need also depends on the area in which you plan on hanging the lights.
Hanging lights on a post: Tape measure, drill, ladder, extension cord
Hanging lights on a tree: Tape measure, drill, ladder, extension cord
Hanging lights on a house or building: Tape measure, drill, hammer, ladder, extension cord
Hanging lights on a deck railing: Tape measure, staple gun, extension cord
Hanging lights on a fence: Tape measure, hammer, drill, extension cord
How to Hang String Lights on Posts
If you don’t have an area in your yard to hang lights from already, you can create one yourself by installing posts. You can make the posts by adding concrete mix to heavy duty containers or barrels, three quarters of the way full. Add water and shake the container to release the air bubbles. Then, place an 8-foot pressure-treated support post in the middle of the container, ensuring it's level while the concrete mix sets.
You can set up a few posts surrounding your outdoor living space to create a perfect place to hang patio lights. What’s more, you can customize the posts to your liking by making the base into a plant holder or staining the wood.
Once you have determined how many posts you will need, make a rough sketch of the layout to measure the space between the posts and determine how many light strings to buy.
Drill pilot holes in the posts, and manually screw in outdoor-rated cup hooks.
Using a ladder, string the lights from post to post. If the posts are farther away from each other, you can use a cable kit to serve as a guide wire.
Reinforce the light strings by using zip ties to secure them to the hooks.
Plug in the lights to the nearest power source, and use an outdoor extension cord, if needed.
How to Hang Outdoor String Lights from Trees
Hanging string lights from trees can accentuate their silhouettes and illuminate natural elements in your yard. You can hang them from tree to tree throughout your property to create an enchanting atmosphere after dark.
Begin by using a tape measure or string to measure the distance from tree to tree, so you know how many feet of lights to purchase.
Enlist the help of a friend to stretch the lights out and determine where they will be placed. You can also make a rough sketch of your yard and the amount of trees you have to figure out the best path to hang the lights from.
Mark the area you want to hang the lights from and drill a pilot hole directly into the tree.
Opt for weatherproof cup hooks to prevent them from rusting when exposed to moisture. Attach the cup hooks to the trees by screwing them firmly into place.
(Optional) If the points of the hooks are a long distance apart from each other, or if you want to string the lights tautly, use a cable kit for additional reinforcement.
With a ladder, hang the lights from the hooks, and plug them into an extension cord, if needed.
How to Hang String Lights from a House or Building
Maybe you want to hang the string lights directly from your home or from another structure on your property, like a shed. Keep in mind the exterior material to find the best method of attachment.
Start by making a rough sketch to measure the length and layout of how the lights will be hung. You can also lay the lights directly down on the ground first to visualize how much you have leftover (or if you will need more).
If you’re attaching the string lights to vinyl siding, opt for vinyl siding clips, which can be directly wedged into the seam of the siding without any tools required. You may also choose to attach the lights to gutters by securing them to S-clips that clip directly into place.
For a more permanent setup, you can drill holes directly into the siding, brick, or other exterior material. First, determine and mark your fixed anchor points. Using these points as a guide, hammer in a wall anchor rated for your home or building’s exterior material to ensure the mounts are securely attached to the wall. Then, screw in a hook to the wall anchors.
String the lights from point to point, ensuring they’re secured into place as you work around the space.
Plug them into an extension cord, if necessary.
How to Hang Outdoor String Lights Along a Deck Railing
Hanging string lights along a deck railing can enhance the look of an existing deck and encourage more outdoor living after the sun sets. You can hang the lights two ways—using adhesive clips or stapling them to the underside of the railing. When weighing the options, consider that the staples may be more permanent, but they will leave small holes in the surface of the decking.
Start by measuring the length of the deck to plan the layout of the light design. For example, will you use string lights hanging over the top of the railing? Or, will you string the lights underneath the handrail? You can also consider adding the lights to stair railings or wrapping them around the vertical posts.
If you are using the stapling method, wrap the lights around the railing and secure them with a staple gun underneath the railing to conceal the staples. When stapling the lights into place, remember to hug the wire with the staple gun to ensure the staples don’t pierce a hole in the wire.
If you are using adhesive hooks, be sure they are rated for outdoor conditions. Place the adhesive strips a few feet apart as mounting points to string the lights on.
As you work your way around the deck railing, either using a staple gun or adhesive strips, pull the lights tautly so there isn’t any slack in the string (unless you want them to look like they’re draping).
Plug the lights into an extension cord, if needed.
How to Hang Outdoor String Lights Along a Fence
Adding string lights is an easy way to jazz up any type of fence, whether you have wood, vinyl, or chain-link. You can determine the mounting points by using the fence posts as a guide. This will ensure even spacing as you work your way around the fence.
Lay the lights out along the fence to get a general idea of the length you will need.
For wood fences, you can use finishing nails if your string lights have a specific hole to hang them from. Or, use cup hooks by drilling pilot holes in the designated mounting points and screwing them into place. If you have metal or aluminum fencing, you can suspend them from adhesive hooks.
Attach your strings to the hooks or nails, pulling the wire tautly as you go.
Plug in the lights to the closest power source, using an extension cord if necessary.
Types of String Lights
There are different types, styles, and bulbs to choose from, so here are some considerations when selecting string lights for your yard.
Commercial Grade vs. Standard Grade
Commercial-grade string lights: Commercial-grade string lights are rated for outdoor use and can withstand year-round weather conditions. They are often equipped with weatherproof sockets, heavy-duty wire, and longer cords. While they have a higher upfront cost, they can recreate the look of professional patio areas and can last for extended periods of time.
Standard-grade string lights: Standard-grade string lights are often weather-resistant; however, they will not last as long in outdoor settings as commercial-grade string lights. They do have a lower upfront cost and can work well for temporary outdoor setups. Moreover, they come in shorter lengths, which can be a good option if you are looking to cover a small outdoor living space.
Type of Bulb
LED: LED bulbs are a popular choice for outdoor lighting, as they use less wattage than incandescent, and they last for a long time. They are cooler to the touch and come in a variety of color tones. It’s important to note that they have a higher upfront cost than incandescent bulbs but give off a brighter light.
Incandescent: Incandescent bulbs can be used in a variety of outdoor settings and have an inexpensive upfront cost. However, they won’t last as long as LEDs, and they don’t have as many bulb color options.
Solar: String lights also have solar-powered bulb options to effectively illuminate the space. Many choose solar powered because their energy-efficiency is unmatched, and they come in a variety of trendy string light styles. Remember, they are less versatile as they can only be placed in an area with adequate sunlight, and they often aren’t as bright as other bulb types.
Edison bulbs: Edison bulbs bring an industrial look to your space by recreating the original Thomas Edison lightbulb. They have an exposed filament and provide a warm glow to your outdoor living area.
Globe bulbs: Globe bulbs are usually made from glass spheres and can be found in a variety of sizes. Their versatility works well with many outdoor patio styles ranging from bohemian, transitional, and modern.
Lantern lights: Lantern string lights come in a variety of styles to match your backyard design. You can choose colorful paper lanterns that add decoration to any outdoor event. Or you can go with a plastic housing for a more permanent addition. Other types of lantern lighting material used are nylon and tarpaulin—a material that can resemble canvas but has more weather-resistant properties.
Rope lights: Rope lights are light strings covered in PVC tube casing. They are weather resistant and often used to accentuate deck railings and staircases.
Tips for Hanging Outdoor String Lights
Browse through some tips for a seamless installation process and long-lasting results.
Save glass bulbs for last: Screw in glass bulbs after you have strung the lights to avoid potential damage during the installation process.
Rethink holiday string lights: While it may be tempting to pick up discounted string lights after the holiday season, keep in mind that they may not be readily available year-round if you need to add on or replace them.
Rely on smart plugs and timers: Opt for an outdoor smart plug or outlet timer to set your lights on a schedule so you don’t accidentally leave them running all night.
Use existing structures to hang lights: Wrap string lights around pergolas, arbors, or trellises to create a charming look.
Check for existing hardware holes: Many types of string lights have a hole above each bulb so they can be secured into place using a finishing nail.
Enlist a friend: They can help keep the ladder stable when you’re hanging the lights in hard-to-reach areas.
Keep your original packaging: Safely store your string lights in their original packages if you need to take them down.
Enhance walkways: String LED rope lights along pathways or stairs in your yard for easy visibility.