How To Hang Christmas Lights Outdoors

Updated: Nov. 23, 2023

Hanging Christmas lights outdoors doesn't have to be overwhelming. Let's take it in stages and make it a fun holiday tradition.

Next Project
Time

A full day

Complexity

Beginner

Cost

Varies

Introduction

Christmas lights brighten the neighborhood with festive cheer. The cozy glow brings to mind hot cider, a crackling fireplace and the promise of family and friends gathered together.

But those cheery lights don't hang themselves. Someone has to put them up, and if that someone is you, it's tempting to hang a wreath and call it a day. But putting up lights doesn't have to be a pain. With a bit of planning, you can have a beautiful Christmas wonderland in about a day, depending on how elaborate you want to be.

Let's get started.

Project step-by-step (8)

Step 1

Make a Plan

  • Choose what you want to highlight with your Christmas lights.
    • A window, archway or tree draws viewer attention.
  • Select colors that complement each other and match what you have left over from last year.
    • LED lights are more energy efficient than incandescent, and you can string more of them together.
  • Decide the bulb style depending on where you plan to put them.
    • Large C9 lights look great on rooflines, while icicle lights are better for eaves.

Pro tip: When joining two strands of lights, wrap electrical tape around the connection to keep out rain and snow and prevent them from separating.

supplies for hanging christmas lightsAlly Childress for Family handyman

Step 2

Measure

  • Measure windows, rooflines and walkways, then add the numbers together.
    • Include the distance to your power source, or use extension cords or power stakes.
    • Before buying your lights, read the packaging and online descriptions for length and light spacing. They’re not all the same.
  • Estimate coverage on bushes, or buy one to two net lights per bush.
  • Measure the circumference of tree trunks you’ll wrap with string or tailor’s tape, as well as the height.
    • Divide the height by the desired spacing (in feet) and multiply by the circumference (in feet).
    • Four inches (0.33 feet) between wraps is a nice spacing for wrapping lights around tree trunks.
    • Estimate coverage for pine trees at a rate of 100 lights per foot of height. Adjust amount for larger or smaller trees, and different bulb styles.

measuring a window with a tape measureAlly Childress for Family handyman

Step 3

Test the Lights

  • Plug in every strand of lights before you start to make sure they work.
  • Check the colors and any flashing effects to be sure they’re what you expect.

a spool of christmas lights glowingAlly Childress for Family handyman

Step 4

Start From the Power Source

  • Visualize or draw the path your lights will take from the power source to the last strand of lights.
    • Backtracking or jumping from one place to another unnecessarily disrupts the overall look.
  • Lay out the extension cord and make sure it will reach to your first planned light area.
    • Or start from a hidden outlet if you have one — say, one in the backyard that won’t be visible from the front.
  • Never string together more lights than recommended on the package. You risk damaging the lights or overloading the circuit.
Step 5

Hang Christmas Lights From the Roof

  • Purchase roof clips that match the style and size of bulb you’re hanging. Universal clips are a good choice.
  • Safely place your extension ladder on the side of your house.
    • Use a 4:1 rise-to-run ratio. That means for every four feet in height, count off one foot from the wall.
  • Attach clips to lights first for easy spacing, or climb your ladder and slide the clips onto your gutters or shingles.

christmas lights and clips for hangingAlly Childress for Family handyman

    • Check the instructions on the package for the recommended way to do this.
    • Carry extra clips in your tool pouch.
  • Attach the lights to your gutters or shingles.
    • If possible, have a helper on the ground feed you the lights as you climb.
  • Move the ladder every few feet and always keep your body between the ladder rungs. Never reach!

christmas lights clipped to a roofAlly Childress for Family handyman

Step 6

Wrap Christmas Lights Around Trees

  • Bring an extension cord to the tree and use a power stake if needed.
  • Start at the bottom and wrap the trunk and branches with lights.
    • Maintain the spacing you planned for earlier so you don’t run out of lights.
  • Add lights to pine trees by starting at the base of the trunk and working your way around the perimeter and up.

a tree trunk wrapped with christmas lightsAlly Childress for Family handyman

Step 7

Drape Christmas Lights Around Bushes

glowing bushes decorated with Christmas lightsAlly Childress for Family handyman

Step 8

Hang Christmas Lights Around Windows

  • Clean your window frames or windows as directed on the package of detachable decorating clips.
  • Hang clips around the perimeter of the window and allow to set up. (It usually takes about an hour.)
    • Check the package to make sure the clips can handle your climate. The brand above will hold to minus-20 degrees.
    • In severely cold climates, consider hanging lights on the insides of windows.
  • Attach the light strands to the clips, pulling the strands taut. If your lights aren’t working, then try changing the fuse in Christmas lights.

close up of lights clipped around a windowAlly Childress for Family handyman