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How to Hang Outdoor String Lights: The Ultimate Guide

Want to hang string lights over your backyard or patio, but not sure how? Learn how with this comprehensive guide!

Who doesn’t love a backyard party under glowing string lights on a warm Summer’s evening?

But figuring out how and where to hang the lights, which type to buy, and how many you need can get a little complicated. It will all boil down to what you have that you can attach the lights to. This guide will tell you everything you need to know and link to the best DIY tutorials for each situation.

If you’re in the early planning phases for your outdoor lighting project, this post will give you some great inspiration.

What’s The Best Type of String Lights?

Types of String Lights: Industrial LED vs. Traditional collage of photos of heavey duty string lights and inexpensive traditional patio lights

Bottom line, these are the best and most durable string lights around. They’re LED, heavy-duty, and will last for many years. If you want to keep your lights up year-round, intend to use them for several years in a row, or are using them for some kind of commercial application, these are your best bet.

opened box of Feit Electric LED string lights sitting on a patio table

outdoor dining patio with string lights hanging above it

I’ve had these high-quality lights over my patio (above) for the past four years, and never had any problems with them. I will note that I take them down for the winter months, since we get freezing temperatures and some serious wind storms here in Seattle.

Best Places to Use Industrial LED String Lights

  • spanning a long distance between trees, posts, or buildings
  • restaurant patios
  • waterfront settings
  • over a deck or patio without a roof
  • windy locations

But as you might predict, industrial-quality LED string lights are also the most expensive. If you’re on a tight budget, you might want to consider something inexpensive, like this basic set from Target.

Best Places to Use Inexpensive String Lights

Inexpensive patio lights can work really well when they’re hung in a protected location, and when they’re not likely to get jostled or blown around in the wind. Here are a couple of places where they might serve your needs just fine:

A couple of other benefits of these smaller, more budget-friendly string lights is they’re undeniably cuter, lighter-weight, and take up less storage space when not in use. Just don’t plan to leave them up year-round if you live in a harsh or windy climate.

close-up of string lights attached to the underside of a roof with cup hooks

Here you can see the inexpensive lights I hung in my kids’ playhouse below.

glowing string lights hung under the roof of a children's playhouse

What Color Should The Bulbs Be?

Whenever I’m buying lightbulbs, whether for indoor or outdoor use, I always look for “warm white”. Regular lightbulbs will have this “Lighting Facts” diagram on the back of the box like the ones below. You’ll always want your light color to be on the warm side of the spectrum.

Boxes of string lights may or may not have this diagram. But the point is that you want a warm glow with yellow/orange undertones, similar to the color of candlelight. Anything that says “daylight” or “cool” is going to have a blue cast like an alien spaceship. And I’m guessing that’s not the ambiance you’re going for.

Light Bulb Colors chart showing the difference between warm and cool light bulbs

What Can You Hang String Lights From?

Here are the most common things you can attach string lights to in your backyard:

Unless you happen to have strategically located trees, you’ll most likely need to attach your lights to more than one of these.

Make A Plan

One of the many benefits of adding cafe lights to your outdoor living space is they’re casual and not fussy. If it’s important to you to have the lights strung in a symmetrical pattern across your yard, then by all means do that. But they’ll still look great if you go with a more free-form layout. Either way, it’s good to start with a plan so you’ll know what hardware you’ll need, how many strings of lights to get, and whether you’ll need extension cords.

Start by measuring and drawing a rough sketch of your patio, deck, or yard. It doesn’t need to look pretty, and there are no special drawing skills required. I like to use 1/4″ graph paper because it makes it easy to calculate the length of cord that I’ll need. Here’s a bird’s eye sketch of my own back patio:

basic outline of a patio with dimensions on graph paper

As you can see, my patio is next to the house, and measures 21 1/2′ by 10′. Next, I’m going to add the nearest outlet to my plan. It’s on the right side of the patio, so I’ll plan to start my lights on that end, and place a hook on the side of the house above the outlet.

My plan includes 3 DIY string light poles, and 4 wall-mounted cup hooks.

graph paper plan of a patio showing dimensions and where the string lights will be hung, outlets, and string light poles

Now I can use a ruler to measure the lengths of string lights I need. With this graph paper, 1/4″=1′. I’ll also add a at least a foot of length so I’ll have enough to swag lights.

What Hardware Do You Need?

Here are the different hardware options we’ll discuss in this post, with links below to order them if you like.

A. Q-Hanger Screw Hooks

B. 3.5″ Galvanized Finish Nails

C. Stainless Steel Screw Eyes

D. Vinyl-Coated Screw-In Hooks

E. 1/8″ Shock Cord

F. String Light Hanging Kit

How to Hang String Lights From Trees

If you’re going for a casual look and have trees nearby, you can simply drape your lights across the branches. This is probably the easiest and least complicated method you’ll find. Laura at Inspiration for Moms hung her string lights in a tree above her hammock (below).

glowing string lights hung in the branches of a tree over a hammock

Support Cables

If your string lights are going to span a long distance, you may need to use cables to support them. You can get a cable kit here. I haven’t tried this method myself yet, but I plan to soon, and I’ll update this post when I do.

How to Hang String Lights From Poles or Posts

In-Ground String Light Poles

If you don’t have trees or a building to attach your cafe lights to, you may need to add poles or posts. You can buy them or DIY them with just a few inexpensive supplies. My favorite DIY string light poles are these removable in-ground poles made from electrical conduit and PVC pipe. I installed them to hang lights over my back patio 3 years ago, and they’re still going strong.

close-up of PVC pipe in the ground supporting an electrical conduit string light pole
close-up of the top of an electrical conduit string light pole showing how to attach the string lights to the pole

Here’s my Boho patio refresh this year with the string light poles. The other great things about these poles is they can be easily removed and stowed in the garage or shed for the off-season.

backyard patio lit with glowing string lights hung from DIY string light poles

Portable String Light Poles for Renters

If you can’t dig holes in the ground (or just don’t want to!), a simple and ultra-easy variation on the in-ground poles above, are these conduit string light poles with patio umbrella stands as bases. They’re the perfect solution if you’re renting, throwing an outdoor party, or hosting a wedding reception.

backyard patio with string light poles supported by umbrella stands and string lights overhead

DIY Planter String Light Poles

Another popular method for creating DIY string light posts is to fill large flower pots or planters partially with cement and set the poles in the concrete. Then you can fill the remaining space with soil and plant flowers or foliage around the post. Check out this tutorial from Wendi at H20 Bungalow.

close-up of a DIY planter box string light post

How to Hang String Lights Over a Deck

If your deck has a railing, you can attach DIY posts to the existing railing to extend their height. The ideal height will probably be eight or nine feet, depending on which style of lights you choose, and how much you want to swag them.

deck with string light posts attached to the deck railing

Then use cup hooks or screw eyes to attach the light strands to the tops of each post.

close-up of string light post on deck railing showing an eye hook

How to Attach String Lights to a House or Building

For most houses and buildings, you should be able to simply drill a pilot hole and screw in a cup hook. You’ll want to be sure you aren’t compromising your siding.

My house has HardiePlank siding and we were able to screw the hooks directly into it. They’ve been in place for three years now without any problems.

close-up of a cup hook in the siding of a house to hang string lights
string lights attached to a cup hook mounted on the side of a house

When you’re just planning to drape the smaller inexpensive lights like I did on my front porch (below), you can use smaller cup hooks, or even try these outdoor Command Hooks.

porch with glowing string lights draped over a window and two macrame swing chairs

How to Hang String Lights On a Covered Patio or Deck

If you have a roof over your outdoor living space, setting up your string lights should be pretty simple. The nice thing with a covered space is the roof will provide some protection to the lights, and keep them from blowing around in the wind.

You might even be able to leave your lights up year-round. These are the inexpensive lights we hung over my parents’ beach house deck, and they’ve been up for 4 years without incident.

string lights attached to the underside of a deck roof with cup hooks
close-up of string lights attached to the underside of a roof

string lights attached to the underside of a playhouse roof

How to Hang String Lights Along A Fence

Attaching your lights to a fence is just about as simple as it gets. The industrial lights come with a hole above each bulb (see below) so you can simply attach each light with a 3″ finish nail pounded in at an angle. The nail heads are small enough that you’ll be able to remove the lights and replace them without removing the nails.

Finish nail- 16 penny 3″ or 3.5″ nail

close-up of a finish nail holding string lights on a fence

heavy-duty string lights attached to a fence with finish nails
boxes of 3" finish nails stacked at a hardware store

backyard lit with glowing string lights hung on a fence

String Light Tips

  • Hang the lights first, then screw in the bulbs once everything else is in place. It’s easy to break the bulbs while hanging the wires. In fact the industrial lights actually come with the bulbs in a separate box.
  • Hang onto the empty box so you’ll have a place to stow your lights in the off-season. The industrial string lights come with a separate box with dividers to protect the bulbs.
  • You may need to experiment a bit with the number of lights you want over a particular space. For most people, the goal is a nice soft glow. Remember that too much light will attract bugs.

Trouble-Shooting

String Light Cord Isn’t Long Enough

If your light cord isn’t long enough to reach the corners of your deck or patio, you can buy yourself some length by using cord to attach the strand to an eye hook. See the deck railing section above for a visual. You can also buy length with a carabiner.

Now go hang some lights and enjoy your outdoor spaces!

Backyard Lighting Ideas: A Simple Guide for Outdoor Living Spaces

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