The holiday season is still a few months away, but there’s no time like the present to begin strategizing for how you’re going to decorate. When you think of decorating for the most festive time of the year, you think Christmas lights — whether they’re battery-operated lights, solar-powered Christmas lights or Christmas lights built for the outdoors. There’s nothing better than a house beautifully adorned with perfectly hung lights — but like anything design-oriented, there’s a method to the madness.
Instead of just hanging strings of lights willy nilly around the house, we decided to consult some actual design and decoration experts on the best methods for hanging Christmas lights. They had a whole bunch of advice to give about everything from deciding on a design scheme to the types of hooks you should use. No matter what your home looks like or how much real estate you have to cover, let this serve as your guide for creating a game plan for getting your space in the holiday spirit. Here’s how to hang Christmas lights for the ultimate magical effect in 2021.
Editor’s Note: Quotes from experts have been lightly edited for grammar and clarity.
Types of Christmas Tree Lights
There are two main types of Christmas lights, functionally, incandescent lights and LED lights. There are pros and cons to both, and the experts we talked to definitely had some opinions.
Lance Allen, Decorative Holiday Merchant at the Home Depot explained that “Incandescent lights make up the majority of traditional Christmas lights. They produce visible light by heating a wire filament until it glows. While more wallet-friendly than LED lights, they can get hot to touch during extended use and use up to 80% more energy.”
Northlight Set of 100 Clear Mini Christmas Lights
These Christmas tree lights are made using incandescent bulbs and are spaced 2.5 inches apart. They’re a standard, solid choice for decoration and are more affordable than their LED counterparts. They’re equipped with Lamp Lock, which makes them replaceable, resistant to falling out and interchangeable if one burns out. They’re listed for indoor or outdoor use and come with end-to-end connectors so you can connect multiple sets together.
Incandescent lights are the kind your parents and grandparents probably used, and they work just fine and will definitely brighten up your tree and home’s space. However, LED lights are a more recent innovation in the Christmas decoration space and have been gaining in popularity due to their durability, energy-efficiency and overall improved design.
Home Accents Holiday 100-Light LED White String Light
This strand of LED Christmas lights can be connected to up to 29 other strands of Christmas lights and contains 100 warm white LED lights on each strand. The lights are mini, so they’re perfect for adding a small glow to any indoor or outdoor space, and are built to last for 25,000 hours and through multiple seasons of joy. The string is made of durable 22-gauge wire and it comes with an extra pair of bulbs as well as two replacement fuses.
403ft Outdoor 1000 LED Christmas Lights
This Christmas lights roll boasts a whopping 403 feet of 1,000 lights total, so you can cover most of your house or yard using it. It comes with eight different lighting modes built in including steady on, a slow fade, twinkle mode, wave mode, combination and more. They’re waterproof and built durable for facing the elements, and come with four different brightness levels so you can customize your decor to your liking.
JMEXSUSS 66ft LED Indoor Outdoor String Lights
These Christmas lights have a warm, bright glow with a 360 degree viewing angle and a plug design that enhances the durability of the bulb. These lights are softer than other brighter varieties, making them perfect for accenting other decor or using inside your home. They have eight different shining modes and the 66 foot length gives you plenty of room to roam without being overwhelming.
Allen explained that LED Christmas lights “Last 20x longer than traditional lights and use up to 80% less energy. Plus, they stay cool to touch, which plays an important factor in fire prevention around live trees and wreaths,” said Allen.
He went on to explain that “Another advantage is select LED sets have “Continuous-On” that allows the light string to continue to illuminate even if one or more bulbs are not working.”
There are also variations of Christmas lights beyond the mechanisms that make them glow — including shape, size and design. Mini string lights are some of the most popular string lights because they’re minimalist, easy to work with and come in a bunch of colors. There are also C6 lights which are larger, more festive bulbs and C9 lights which are also larger in size. Here are a few examples of each, so you have a visual.
300-Light Mini White Incandescent Light Set
These mini incandescent string lights come in 300-light strings and have a mini bulb shape that’s rated for indoor and outdoor use. Each string is 68.5′ long which is perfect for decorating large spaces outdoors and minimizing the number of strands you need to connect together. The mini bulb doesn’t stick out too much and the incandescents are built to be durable and offer lasting performance.
Minetom Store Clear Mini Christmas String Lights
These mini Christmas lights are made with your eyes in mind, and have a small, soft glow about them that shouldn’t blind you during the holiday season. Each 26.5 foot wire contains 100 transparent mini lights spaced about 3 inches apart. This string is perfect for indoor or minimalist outdoor decorating, and each of the lights are independently lighted so one going out shouldn’t affect the entire string. They’re IP44 waterproof for outdoor use and come with 2500 hours of durability built in.
150-Light C6 LED Multi Color Strings Light
These LED multi color C6 lights are designed to stay cool to the touch while you use them, and they’re designed for a steady glow while on. There are four inches between these larger bulbs, so they’d be perfect for decorating larger outdoor spaces. You can connect up to 30 of these chains together safely for a comprehensive decor scheme, and they’re designed to stay lit even if one goes out.
HOME LIGHTING Decorative Christmas Mini Lights
These multicolor Christmas lights are made with over 200 multicolor individual LED bulbs with eight different lighting functions. The entire strand stays at a low voltage of 29 watts, even after being lit up for hours, to maximize safety. They’re built tough, durable and sturdy, and have a waterproof design that’s perfect for indoor/outdoor use.
C9 OptiCore Multicolor LED Outdoor Christmas Lights
These giant multicolor Christmas lights are made big and bold, and are perfect for lining your house or walkway leading up to the rest of your decorative display. The 25-foot string of lights has 25 lights, each spaced 12 inches apart. These OptiCore bulbs have top-notch color saturation and an SMD LED diode that emits a light through the bulb’s core, enhancing its brightness. You can easily and safely connect multiple strings of these together via end-to-end connection for a glowing effect across your entire home.
100-Light Warm White LED C9 Light Strings on a Spool
These lights are built for large-scale decoration, as each string is 63.5 feet long and you can connect up to 45 sets together to create a brilliant display of Christmas light magic. These C9 Christmas lights are warm white and have a plug-and-play design that’s super easy to set up.
Icicle lights are a strand of lights that hang down off of the bigger string, and can make a beautiful effect off of a gutter or fence outdoors. Net lights, pathway lights and projectors are all other options for decking out your outdoor space for the holidays. In the next section we’re going to discuss creating a game plan for how many lights you need, which lights you’re going to use and where, and how to get started.
150-Light Mini Multi Color Net Lights
Net lights are great for covering things like bushes, shrubs and hedges for the holidays. The lights are all equidistant from each other on the net which creates a magical, orderly effect wherever you spread them out. Each of these strings from the Home Depot can cover an area of 4 ft. x 6 ft. and you can connect up to three sets together.
Lomotech Connectable Christmas Net Lights
These green wire nets from Lomotech are perfect for covering an entire bush, tree or other landscaping with lights that look natural and evenly spread day and night. This particular net of lights comes with eight different modes including a steady on, wave sequence, flashing, and slow fade among others. There’s a timer function that can keep the lights on for up to 18 hours total, and they’re IP44 waterproof which is ideal for the outdoors.
Kringle Traditions Store Clear Net Lights
These clear, non-twinkle incandescent net lights come ready to connect with two other sets for a total of 72 square feet on a single plug. They’re made with tighter wire twists for less snagging during installation, and they’re made with stay-lit technology so one bad apple doesn’t ruin the entire bunch. They’re built for the outdoors and provide quick, uniform coverage on shrubbery of all kinds.
Home Accents Holiday Lighted Candy Cane Pathway Light
These mini LED candy cane lights brighten up the walk to your doorstep around the holidays and are both practical and festive at the same time. They’re made to be used exclusively outdoors, and are built to be easy to install. You can connect up to 15 different candy canes together, and each one is built with 36 mini bulbs inside for plenty of holiday sparkle.
LightShow Whirl-a-Motion Christmas Projection
If you want a super low-maintenance but fantastical Christmas lights display, a projector is a great way to get there. This one easily fits in your yard or driveway and has a versatile design for projecting images or swirls of light and color that’ll captivate neighbors and family. It’s made with bright LEDs for lasting illumination, and has a ground stake for keeping it secure after installation.
Create a Game Plan
Decorating your house with Christmas lights can get overwhelming fast. It’s a good idea to take inventory of what your lighting options are, the type of space you have, and what elements of your home you’d like to highlight with lights.
“Pick a focal point to highlight. Place your brightest lights or a higher concentration of lights on the areas you want to pull the most focus and build out your plan from there,” said Allen.
Garth McAlpin, Architect, Designer and National Fulfillment Manager of the Classic Architectural Group said his “best tip for hanging Christmas lights around the house is to first create a master plan to follow. Look at the bigger picture by viewing the house from the street and noting down any highlighting features that your house has.”
“Use fairy lights on the edges of the driveway to create a noticeable path. Bring attention to windows and the doorframe using multi-colored lights. For your yard, highlight the bushes and hang overhead lights for the deck. Put stars on top of any trees to create a multiple Christmas tree look. By creating a master plan that covers every nook of the house, you can make sure your decorations bring out a stunning look.”
Choose the Right Lights
We already reviewed the many types of Christmas lights that are available in the first section. There are, however, several things to keep in mind when it comes to choosing the lights you’re going to use and how you’re going to hang them.
Emily Perez, outdoor designer from Kitchen Infinity said that “When it comes to preparing lights for Christmas make sure you keep factors like security, colors, clips and types in mind. Frayed or damaged lights are a big no because one faulty string can spoil your entire design.” She also noted that it’s important to choose lights that are actually the same color, and don’t just say the same color on the box, as in practice all white lights are typically not the same shade. “Trust me, all the white lights are not the same color. Some are bluish and some are orangish in color. Buy new and color coordinated lights because mismatched lights will not look good.”
Allen also emphasized the need to calculate how many lights you need beforehand, so you don’t end up with too few for the space you’re trying to cover. “Measure all the straight lines of the house and add them together. Don’t forget to measure the distance to your power source!” He also recommended paying attention to the connection limits of certain strands, to avoid shorting out or damaging your lights. “Don’t connect more strands together than the directions recommend. Make sure that the first strand can reach a power source, then attach lights to clips and start hanging.”
Consider Your Design
After choosing your lights, you’ll need to strategize a design and figure out how you’re going to hang them up safely. Allen had some recommendations when it came to specific light placement, and how to achieve that perfect “magical” effect for the holidays.
“String lights along some of the more commonly decorated areas such as along walkways or driveways, over landscape plants like trees, outlining the roofline or windows and door frames,” said Allen.
“With so many varieties of Christmas lights available, it’s simple to create a magical effect with just lights. Icicle Lights are a fun way to give off a festive frosty look, and hanging vertical snowflakes along the roof can enhance that winter wonderland feeling.”
“For indoor decorating, add lights to your mantel or string them within your garland to brighten the inside of your house. For lots of impact with minimal effort, try a Christmas Light Projector to make thousands of green and red lights explode into motion on your house. For indoor use, battery-operated Christmas lights are an easy way to add to centerpieces, rails, and wreaths. Make sure to not tape or glue them to the walls as it can be difficult to remove,” said Allen.
Stay Safe When Hanging
When it comes to hanging Christmas lights, it’s crucial that you keep safety in mind, hang your lights in a way that’s sustainable for your home and avoid hanging methods that could damage your lights in the long run.
We consulted experts at Christmas Tree World who noted how important it is to be mindful, especially if you’re putting lights in high places.
“Most importantly, stay safe! If you need to go up a ladder, which you probably will, make sure you aren’t putting it on uneven ground and try to make sure someone is there to keep an eye on you.” They also emphasized how important it is to know your lights’ IP rating, and to have the right ones for the environmental conditions where you live.
“IP44 are splashproof, so you need a minimum of these outdoors, anything above IP44 is suitable for outdoor usage. It is a time of celebration, you shouldn’t do anything that could put you in the emergency room.”
Allen also noted that how you hang your Christmas lights is important both to avoid damaging your home and the lights themselves. “Do not hang Christmas lights with screws, nails, or a staple gun as it will make it more difficult to take down. Using plastic light clips like the 75-Pack All-Purpose Light Clips that can attach to your gutters or shingles and can hold various types of light strands,” said Allen.
75-Pack All-Purpose Light Clips
These light clips are universally sized to fit most lights, and can easily attach to both gutters and shingles so you’ve got design flexibility. They’re easy to set up, and have a durable construction for use outside. They’re ideal for C7, C9 and mini LED lights, and built to be spaced 6″ to 8″ apart to keep lights as secure as possible.
Mind the Trees
There are special considerations you should make them hanging lights on Christmas trees, beyond trying to use LED lights so they don’t overheat and cause a fire.
Deemer Cass, Christmas tree and decoration expert at Fantastic Christmas Tree Delivery had specific guidance for the number of lights you need for a standard Christmas tree.
“The bigger the tree, the more lights you’ll need. For every vertical foot, you’ll need around 100 mini lights. So if you have a 5″ Christmas tree, you’ll need 500 mini lights, said Cass.
“Christmas lights come in different sizes and spacing, with the most popular being 4″ bulb spacing. They provide maximum lighting without the excess use of wiring. However, if you plan to wrap the branches, go for lights with 6″ or 8” spacing.”
Codey Stout, Arborist and Operations Manager at Tree Triage noted that you want to “Wrap the lights around major trunks and branches, and make sure that these are spread out with maximum coverage.”
“Don’t experiment too much [with] complicated connections and invest instead on interconnected lights. It’s up to you whether you want to have one solid color for all the lights, or the ones that change colors and timings.”
Lastly, after the holiday season is over, taking care of your lights and storing them well will help you decorate just as well next year. “By not storing Christmas lights properly, you run the risk of the cords becoming tangled, which can lead to shortages in the wire. After you take the lights down, unplug each strand before you pack them,” said Allen. “Since you were probably recently wrapping presents, a great tip is to wrap your Christmas lights around a spent tube of wrapping paper.”
He also recommended some of Home Depot’s Christmas lights that are available on a spool or designed to be easy to store.
32.6 ft. 50-Light Multi Color LED C9 Light Set on Spool
These C9 multi color lights come with all the high-quality functionality of Home Depot lights, and a roll-up spool that makes storage convenient and easy at the end. These are bigger lights that are designed to be used outdoors, remain cool when lit and are built energy-efficient. You can connect them with up to 43 other C9 LED light sets and line fences, gutters, rooflines and other home spaces.
Holdn’ Storage Premium Christmas Light Storage Bag
This Christmas light storage bag from Holdn’ Storage is made for keeping your lights secure and tangle-free between decorating seasons, and is big enough to hold three spinning wheels and a Versa-clamp as well. It’s made of heavy duty 600D material that protects against dust and moisture eroding your gear during the spring and summer months, and the U-shaped design gives you a wider opening for easier loading and unloading.
ZOBER Premium Christmas Light Storage Bag with 3 Metal Reels
This storage pack comes with three metal reels that are heavy-duty and virtually unbreakable. They’re designed to make it easy to wrap all of your Christmas lights and keep them untangled in storage. The storage bag is made of 600D polyester and has a sturdy zipper for protecting the lights from pests, dust and dirt throughout the year. It also has reinforced handles so it’s easy to carry, and is designed to take up minimal space in storage.