How to Hang Outdoor String Lights
Learn how to hang string lights outside using stainless wire for support. With these tips, you can create an outdoor oasis in no time!
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: twinkle lights make everything magical. It’s the whole reason I host a nighttime tour every holiday season filled with fairy lights… but what’s a girl to do the other ten months of the year? Hang outdoor string lights, of course.
And not just any outdoor string lights: ones that will last.
When I revealed my outdoor dining area last week, I had so many questions about the best way to hang string lights, so today I’m sharing all my tips and tricks, as well as the best outdoor string lights and materials needed to hang them on wire cables.
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Best lights and wire for outdoor patio
Commercial outdoor string lights
Any amount of string lights can add magic, but I knew two things: I wanted lots of light (because we were lighting a very dark glade in the woods), and I wanted them not to break.
I began by choosing the type of lights that would provide the most light and ambiance for our outdoor living space. Globe lights were going to give us more light: enough for outdoor dining and yard games. But I decided that a vintage style globe light provided more ambiance and warm glow than simple round lights for our outdoor areas.
I then compared regular string lights to commercial grade lights, and it was no competition. I read reviews and compared and decided that these commercial grade vintage-style string lights were the way to go.
Even better, they’re LED, which should last longer, stay cool to the touch, and allows for more strands to be connected together from a single outlet because the wattage per bulb is lower. If you need a lot of strands, the price can certainly add up. But I think it’s worth it to have something that should survive the outdoors and last for years to come to light your outdoor spaces.
Update: I used glass bulbs for this project, but I needed shatterproof bulbs to go above our concrete patio, so I used these string lights with plastic light bulbs. We’ve been very happy with them, too! Both are great options.
Hanging lights with wire
Whether it’s an outdoor patio, pergola structure, open yard, or tree-filled glade, outdoor string lights will add magic. But in order to ensure longevity (especially if you want to string them overhead), I think the best way is to use support wire.
Using support wires isn’t required. If you want to drape them through the trees or across a fence, that’s ok, too!. But a guide wire does relieves stress on the electrical wire and allows you to keep the lights taught above your head and all hanging the right direction.
It is especially useful if you have long stretches of lights, like all the way across the yard or a clearing. In short, using wire to hang outdoor lights gives more stability and a cleaner look.
You could purchase stainless steel wire (something that won’t rust!) and eye hooks or cup hooks from your local hardware store, but I found it simpler to purchase these string light hanging kits at the same time that we ordered our lights. We used three of them for ~320 ft of strung lights.
Where to hang outdoor string lights
Making a plan was definitely the slowest part of the whole project for me – ha! There are four major considerations:
- Make sure you have power source (an electrical outlet plug or an extension cord) at the start to plug in your light cord.
- Check your lights for the recommended number of strands that can be connected together safely. If you need more strands than that, you will need to have another plug for some of the strands.
- Design the look you want for your yard or covered patio. The lights can be strung in neat, straight lines, zigzag across the middle, straight around the perimeter, centralized around a point like a circus tent, or randomly for a whimsical look.
- Find natural supports or sturdy places to attach the wires at least 9′ off the ground. Healthy trees, a solid spot on your house or patio, a gazebo roof, or a post secured by cement will work. It needs to be able to hold an eye hook screw securely. (For more ideas on how to hang lights if you don’t have trees in the right places, see this post.)
We decided to hang ours in two groupings: one over the larger clearing, which we will use as a game area, and one of the smaller clearing for dining. Each grouping comes to a single peak on one side and spreads out to four other points on the other side.
Materials needed to hang outdoor string lights
- commercial grade outdoor string lights
- stainless steel cable, cable clamps, and eye hooks (or a kit like this)
- hammer or drill, screw driver, and wire snips
- black zip ties
- black extension cords (optional)
Learn How to hang outdoor string lights
Learn how to use support cables to hang outdoor string lights over your patio or yard.
- Make a plan
See above for all the considerations (like power and number of light strings). You will want to attach the cables at least 9′ off the ground to allow for a bit of sag and for the lights to hang down. Once you have decided these details, measure the space, then order your lights and cable hanging materials.
- Attach eye hooks perpendicular to the run of the cable
There will be tension on the cable, obviously, so it is important that the eye hooks be installed securely. At least 9′ off the ground, choose a position that will allow the eye hook to stick out perpendicular to the direction the cable will run. This will keep the pressure of the cable from trying to pull the screw hooks straight out of the tree.
Use a hammer to tap the end of your eye hook into the tree (or pre drill if you prefer). Once it is secure, begin screwing it in. You may have to repeat the tapping and screwing a few times as it makes its way through layers of bark. Eventually, though, it will catch and you can screw it in securely.
To tighten the screw, using a screwdriver through the eye for leverage.
- Run stainless steel cable
Between each set of eye hooks, run stainless cable and secure using aluminum sleeves or other wire locks. Be sure to pull the cable tight before securing.
- Lay out the lights
Laying out your light strands before you begin securing them to the cable will save you tons of time. Decide exactly how many bulbs will be secured to each cable run so that you can then attach the lights with the ladder in just one spot.
- Secure lights with zip ties
Start at the end where you plug in your lights and use a zip tie to secure the first bulb to the eye hook to keep the strand in place. Then secure each light to the cable using zip ties (remember how many you counted in the previous step).
Clip off the excess plastic. Attach all the bulbs that will hang on that particular cable run, then walk the strand out to spread the lights. Continue on the subsequent cables.
Secure the end of your final strand to the last eye hook and enjoy!
For this project, we hung 7 strands of patio lights, lighting a huge game and dining area with plenty of light. The whole thing probably took us about four hours of work, and the lights look great! Whether you choose to light up your trees, your backyard patio, your porch, or another outdoor existing structure, I hope these tips help!
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Do you have any other questions about diy hanging outdoor lights? Ask away! And don’t forget to pin it.
That was great!! Thank you!
So glad you found it helpful, Jacque!
Looks beautiful! I love stringing lights outside, although I have yet to go permanent. It’s coming… 😊 I’ll pin this for reference someday.
Thank you, Becky! Glad you loved it!
Thank you for doing all the hard work for us in figuring out the best way to hang lights. The step by step step tutorial is very informative. And I love that outdoor space you’ve created.
Thank you, Pat! I’m hoping many of us will be enjoying more outdoor evenings at home with social distancing.
Thank you so much for this and all the details! I have always dreamed of a big pergola in my backyard and string lights for that festive and cozy backyard feel. Pinned for when I’m ready!
I’m so glad you love it, Jennifer!
So fab. I love what you did and the way you did it. I plan to buy some outdoor light to string up. My problem is, I don’t have tree branches like your trees. I have one, fairly young tree, with limited branches. what can I do to hang lights in my yard?
Do you have a deck? You can also create some posts that you can suspend lights from.
This looks so pretty and welcoming. Thank you for the explanation, I’m looking forward to giving this a go.
I hope it creates a beautiful space for you!
Looks beautiful! It looks like this area is pretty far from any outlets (which I want to string lights across 2 trees and the playhouse out from our house, which isn’t anywhere near an outlet). How did guy go about hiding the extension cord? I wouldn’t want kids tripping on a cord that has to go all through the yard to the house. Can you let me know what you did with yours? I’ve been looking for info on it everywhere and can’t find anything!
I’m sorry for the delay, but I just found this comment buried… Not sure if you still need an answer, but here goes! We actually have outdoor plugs at the base of three trees out there, so we simply ran black extension cords from the plug up to the height where we wanted the lights to begin. I hope that answers your question. 🙂
Ah ok! Dang, my plugs are super far away and I don’t want to run an extension cord from the house to the trees lol. I haven’t found any with bulbs that size that are solar, mostly just fairy lights. Thanks for letting me know!
Glad I could help!
I ordered the cable from amazon to hang Christmas lights across my front yard this coming Christmas between 3 trees.
Perfect! I hope it creates a beautiful space for you!
Thanks for all the details.
Do you have any suggestions on how to camouflage the power cables running up the tree trunks?
Have you tried more natural color extension cords? I can’t think of another way other than avoiding the orange color cords.
Thanks for the informative article! We want to string lights between 2 story buildings, to replace our flood lights (use same junction box/receptacle). Wondering if at that height the lights will still be effective enough to light up the ground?
Hmmmm… great question! I’m afraid I haven’t tried them above the 12′ or so that we strung ours. I will say, though, that it puts out tons of light at that height. If you are able to string them fairly densely, then I would guess you could get enough enough even as high as 15 or 20 feet. That’s just a guess, though. I wish I had a more scientific answer for you!
Thanks for the more permanent installation solution. I want to run my lights onto the cable, tout without any sagging between posts. I would use the tension springs between posts. Do you think this is a good idea? Would it create problems should it get windy? I want a neat uniform look for my contemporary patio pool deck. Thanks
I have not used the tension springs myself, so I’m afraid I cannot speak to their use in windy conditions… but we’ve been very happy with ours, even in windy conditions. I hope this helps!
Great article and nice job! Question for you. I have everything I need to hang and wire my design. Last decision is which dimmable commerical string lights to buy, shatterproof (plastic) or glass. Would be good to have piece of mind with shatterproof but concerned they will look cheap. Any concerns with going with glass bulbs?
We haven’t had any issues with glass bulbs. I think they can handle the Texas outdoor heat better too (and will hopefully last longer).
hi Rachel! This looks so great! Did you purchase multiples of the 48ft string lights? How did you get them to connect together – do the separate strands connect to each other somehow?
Yes, they connect together to create long strands.
Can you hang lights across an 80 to 90 foot distance from one tall structure fanned out to a lower structure (80 to 90 feet away)? This would be temporary for a nighttime wedding.reception. We were thinking about using 3 strings of lights each 100 feet long.
It will depend on the sturdiness of the structures and the strength of the steel cable, and I’m afraid I don’t have the engineering skills to know that. I wish I could be of more help.
Good project that turned out great. Can you string the support cable through the hole on top of each light and leave slack in the steel cable and the lighting cable? We want to have slack in the light strand and not on a rigid steel cable. Thoughts?
Thanks! My only concern with a loose cable is that the lights might slide to the center, rather than staying evenly spaced on the wire. If you secure the light strand at either end, though, you could probably avoid that.
Great point…..which I never thought may happen.
Will secure the light strand on either end and perhaps one in the middle.
The spans are only 18 feet.