Perplexed by how to hang Christmas lights? These tips and tricks for securing outdoor Christmas lights will have the exterior of your home looking holiday-ready and ensure the bright lights last the whole season.

By BH&G Holiday Editors
Updated November 09, 2020
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Before you grab the ladder and start hanging Christmas lights, you need a plan for your Winter Wonderland. What type of Christmas lights are you going to hang, where are you going to drape them, and how are you going to secure them to the front of your house? You may just be executing an around-the-gutters-and-eaves operation, or you might want to consider something a little more intricate for your outdoor Christmas decorations. No matter how simple or complex, it helps to have a plan. Our step-by-step guide to DIY Christmas light hanging can help you develop a custom design that will work for every holiday season.

Ethnic family hanging holiday lights outside above a large window
Credit: andresr/Getty Images

The Difference Between Christmas Lights

There are dozens of varieties for Christmas string lights, so know the difference before you begin shopping. Icicle lights (like this White LED Icicle Light Set, $20, The Home Depot) come in realistic shapes and hanging curtains. Other hanging lights come in specific shapes, like snowflakes. Traditional light strands create a uniform outline.

What kind of bulb matters, too. LED lights are more expensive than incandescent lights, but LED Christmas lights are designed to last longer—like tens of thousands of hours. The LED lights are more of an investment upfront, but they also help save energy on your holiday utility bill because of their efficiency. LED Christmas lights also tend to have more lights per string, which compensates for any reduction in brightness. They're made of acrylic, which is harder to break. And LED lights are safer: they don't get hot to the touch, and you can connect 10 times more strings together, which means fewer extension chords.

  • T5 Mini bulbs are traditionally incandescent but are now available as an LED.
  • Wide Angle Mini bulbs cast light evenly, so it looks good from any angle. These are best used to wrap trees.
  • When looking at size, C7 light bulbs are smaller, traditional bulbs and C9 light bulbs are larger and easier to see from a distance. Both are popular for rooflines or around a big tree.
  • G12 round bulbs are the size of raspberries. This is a go-to if you want big points of light.
  • Dome bulbs create the effect of a mini flashlight beam.
white Greek Revival-style home exterior with holiday lights at dusk
Credit: John Noltner

Measuring Your Home for Christmas Lights

Take one-time measurements of your home so you know how many Christmas lights you'll need. (There's nothing worse than hanging a string and realizing it only covers two-thirds of the intended space.) Then evaluate your power situation. Know where the outlets are and determine if you'll need to run exterior-grade extension cords from the outlet to the final destination where the Christmas lights will hang.

Editor's Tip: Plug in the string of lights before you start hanging Christmas lights outside so you can preview your work as you go—and you'll never end up with your light strand too far from an outlet!

Use Gutter Clips for Easy DIY Hanging

Next up, determine what tools and hooks you need to hang the Christmas lights. Tabatha Wrisley of We Hang Christmas Lights, a professional Christmas light installation service, recommends using Omni clips. The clips clamp onto gutters, bricks or slide under roof shingles to hold bulbs in place easily. Another smart Christmas lighting pick? Power stakes. "Power stakes bring power closer to where you need it so you don't have to run cords all over your yard," Wrisley says. "For extra convenience, look for stakes with timers and remote controls." Once you’ve measured your home and know which lighting accessories you need, make a list (check it twice!) and start shopping.

Hanging Christmas Lights Safety Matters

Always consider safety when hanging Christmas lights around your home exterior. Ensure all extension cords and light strings are in good condition and there are no exposed wires, broken sockets, or other safety hazards (and that they are made for outdoor purposes). When it comes to extension cords, the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) advises matching your power needs, or the amperage, of the lights to the amperage of the extension cords. (Check out their other smart safety tips, too).

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends not using more than three standard length strings of lights per one extension cord. (Check out the CPSC's brochure for more holiday safety tips.) As you are planning your lighting, ensure cords are kept away from snow and water and aren't tripping hazards, either.

white house exterior with shakers, columns and Christmas decor
Credit: John Granen

How to Hang Christmas Lights Step-by-Step

Step 1: Pick a mild winter day and start hanging Christmas lights in the mid-morning while there is plenty of daylight left to burn.

Step 2: Lay out all of your Christmas lights in the garage or another dry place and untangle any strings; test for burned out bulbs. You can also do this step in the weeks before hanging the lights so there is plenty of time to replace dull Christmas lights.

Step 3: Inspect your ladder to make sure it's in good condition and opt for a wood or fiberglass ladder. The ESFI says metal ladders can conduct electricity, which is not a good thing when plugging in Christmas lights.

Step 4: When you’re ready to add Christmas lights to your house, start with the highest point and work your way from side-to-side and then down.

Step 5: Be sure to secure your Christmas lights tightly but without damaging the wires. Avoid securing your Christmas lights with nails and staples because they increase the likelihood of ruining the wires.

Step 6: Work with a partner when hanging Christmas lights. You'll be surprised how much easier the process is with an extra set of hands, and it’s ideal to have a spotter while you’re on the ladder.

Step 7: When you're done hanging Christmas lights, admire your handiwork! Lastly, don't forget to sync your Christmas light display with a timer (like this Outdoor Timer with Photocell Light Sensor, $25, The Home Depot) or unplug them before you go to bed.


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