How to Hang Patio Lights

By Kelli Harvey | Updated Jun 15, 2021
How to Hang Patio Lights - Popular Outdoor Lighting Ideas

How to Hang Patio Lights

The installation process can vary depending on where and how you decide to hang your patio lights. To get you started, we've created a list of the basic steps, supplies you might need and methods to use.

Supplies You Might Need

  • Hooks- these could be screw-in hooks or another variety.
  • Zip ties
  • Carabiners
  • Extension cords
  • Guy Wire Kit

Hanging Patio String Lights Basic Steps

  1. Draw a rough sketch with measurements
  2. Assemble your poles if applicable
  3. If using guy wire, hang this first. Using a guy wire can prolong the life of your light strings by removing the tension that is created on the string as your patio lights hang over time. In some situations, the light strings may need to be threaded through the guy wire prior to being hung.
  4. Hang your first patio light string with the male plug closest to your outlet.
  5. Use zip ties or hooks between each bulb as needed on deck railings or other structures. If applicable, attach the strings to your guy wire as you go.
  6. If working with multiple light strings, finish hanging your first run and then connect the male end of the second string to the female end of the first and continue going in this way until all strings are in place! If your light string doesn't have end to end connectors, run an extension cord to your second light string and continue hanging your patio lights. If hanging incandescent patio lights, keep maximum wattage in mind and switch to a different outlet if necessary to avoid power disruptions!
  7. Plug your patio lights in and enjoy the ambiance!
Patio Lights Hanging Across a Backyard Deck
Patio Lights Hanging Across a Backyard Deck

Where To Hang Patio Lights

If your yard doesn't have many readily available options for hanging patio lights, you may need to create your own. You can affix poles to deck railings or use the railings themselves to hang your lights. For larger backyard installations you may need to attach wires to trees and sink poles into the ground. In smaller patio settings with no existing surfaces to hang lights, you can cement poles into painted buckets or decorative planters using the DIY method below.

DIY Patio Light Pole

What you will need

  • 1 Large Terra Cotta Clay Pot
  • 1 Small Terra Cotta Clay Pot ( to fit inside the larger version)
  • Quick Dry Cement
  • Thick Wooden Post or Pole
  • Screw-In Hook
  • Gardening Soil
  • Flowers/Plants or Decorative Stones

Directions

Attach a hook to one end of your pole, this will provide an anchor for the light strings to attach to. Mix the cement into your smaller clay pot and while it is still wet place your pole or wooden post in the cement. Hold the pole still or find something to keep it centered while it dries. Drying shouldn't take too long if you're using quick dry cement. Once dry, place the smaller pot inside the larger pot and fill to the top with soil. Plant flowers or place stones around the base of the pole on top of the soil. Now you have a functional pole for hanging your patio lights that also serves as a decorative planter!

Note: this DIY pole for patio lights is recommended only for coverage over small areas such as a 12x12 patio. For larger spaces, more permanent and sturdy hanging solutions should be used.

Backyard Patio & Party Lights

Patio Lights Planning

Select the Best Patio Lights for Your Space

Patio lights and outdoor string lights have become incredibly popular for creating cozy outdoor spaces year-round. Because of that popularity, mass retail stores and online markets are flooded with thousands of patio light variations and degrees of quality. If you're planning on hanging patio lights for long-term use, it's incredibly important to select high quality light bulbs and strings that are designed to be durable and continue looking great over time in outdoor settings.

The following quick guide will help you identify quality patio lights. If you want more detailed information on patio light selection, we recommend watching our Choosing Outdoor String Lights video.

How to Identify the Best Outdoor String Lights

  1. Look for bulbs that can be removed from the string. This allows you to easily replace bulbs if needed and change colors or themes over time if you want.
  2. Choose shatterproof bulbs over glass if possible, especially if you live in a climate with volatile weather or severe storms.
  3. LED bulbs last longer, use less energy, and stay cool to the touch, which makes them better than incandescent bulbs for long term outdoor and patio use.
  4. Look for light strings with heavy duty wire gauges between 16-18 and an insulation rating of SPT1, SPT2, or SJTW. Note: Wire gauge refers to the diameter of the copper within the light string and the SMALLER the number, the BIGGER the gauge, which can be confusing.
  5. If you're hanging lights across a large space, consider outdoor string lights with hanging grommets. The hanging grommet is a machine-cut hole within a rubber brace above each light. You can thread a support wire, also called a guy or guide wire, through each of these holes to help bear the weight, if needed.
How to Hang Patio Lights FAQ

What size pole / post should I use?

2x2 or 2x4 wood is not recommended. A 4x4 post securely placed in the ground is typically sufficient for most backyard patio light applications. If your lighting display is more complex and you have many string light runs being supported from a single post, a 6x6 post can be used. It is larger, provides even more stability, and gives you more surface area to attach your strings, if needed.

How far should I sink the post?

If using concrete, most display applications that are 8' to 10' off ground benefit from posts sunk about 24" to 36". This is approximately 1/4 to 1/3 of the post's height being sunk underground and secured with concrete. For taller applications in the 10' to 15' height range we recommend sinking the post 1/3 of the way in the ground.

How far apart should poles be spaced?

Pole spacing is based on personal preference and the needs unique to the space you are trying to decorate. For example, more complex patio string light patterns may require the use of additional poles.

When should a guy wire be used?

We recommend the use of guy or guide wire on longer light runs and projects where large, heavy patio bulbs are being used. When you stretch light wires between two points, there is constant lateral tension. It's kind of like a perpetual tug of war on your light strings, which isn't ideal. By using guy wire between two anchor points instead of the light string, you're removing the tug of war completely which means the lights you worked so hard to install are less likely to fall or sag over time.

How high should lights be hung off the ground?

Patio light display scenarios can vary widely and it's not uncommon to see lights hung at very different heights even from one end to another. Generally, though, it's good to have lights 8-10' off the ground at a minimum just so there's walking clearance. If you are using larger bulbs, you may want to consider raising the height of your display further, based on personal preference.

What hardware should be used to attach lights to a post?

Hanging hardware like cable clamps are typically sufficient for most applications. Use the appropriate screw or bolt for your hanging surface and ensure the cable clamp is secure. Additional clamps can be used to secure the ends if needed.

How can lights be attached to a tree?

Because trees have varying bark types, traditional cable clamps can work but may require longer screws to ensure the clamp is secured to the tree. Alternative hardware includes things like C hooks (sometimes called bicycle hooks) that can be inserted into a tree and then the string light can be attached to the C hook hardware.

Do you have a helpful patio lights installation tip or idea that you'd like to share, or questions about hanging patio lights? Let us know in the comments below!

Patio Lights Hanging Across a Backyard Space!
Patio Lights Hanging Across a Backyard Space!
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