The Best Tips for Putting Up Outdoor Christmas Lights

This year, elevate your house to "oooh and ahhh" status with the best outdoor Christmas lights.

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Guide to Christmas lights - Colourful Christmas lights
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How to light your home for Christmas

Outdoor Christmas lights are fun, festive and…flummoxing. If you want to decorate your home with outdoor lights for the holidays, but you’re not sure where or how to start, you’re in the right place. Don’t let broken light bulbs and a lack of extension cords stress you out this year.

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Guide to Christmas lights - Home with lights reflected in the water
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Take a look at your home’s exterior

Put on your winter coat, because your outdoor Christmas lights plan begins by actually going outside and eyeballing your home.

Take a photo of the exterior for reference; a wide angle shot is usually easiest to get from across the street. Note how many trees, windows, roof overhangs and doorways you want to decorate. Take winter weather elements into consideration as well. Will your trees have bare branches in December? Will snow banks cover the bottoms of your window?

This is also the time to count your exterior electric outlets and identify where they are. If you have multiple power sources, you’ll have an easier time putting up outdoor lights. If not, you’ll need to purchase longer strings of lights and likely, extension cords. You could also DIY an exterior outlet.

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Guide to Christmas lights - Reindeer
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Find outdoor Christmas light inspiration

Now that you know what you’re dealing with, take to the internet for a little holiday lights inspiration. Simple Google image searches will reveal more ideas than you have days in the year.

We suggest focusing on one area at a time. Do you want icicle lights on your roof line? Pathway Christmas lights along your driveway and walkway? How about blinking lights in the bushes, and trees wrapped with string lights? Don’t forget yard decorations like lit reindeer topiaries and hanging snowflake lights.

Think about a colour scheme. Refer back to your house photo and decide where you’re putting Christmas lights. Your money and time budgets will dictate how bling-y you go.

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Guide to Christmas lights - Man putting lights on roof
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Take measurements

This step ideally requires two people. Grab your extension ladder and measuring tape, enlist a note-taker and go back outside to measure the areas you’ve decided to decorate. Measure the circumference of tree trunks, determine the dimensions of bushes or shrubs, and calculate the entire length on both sides of walkways and the driveway.

You can estimate the length of your roof by measuring the base of your house. Be sure to account for any peaks or unusual architectural elements that aren’t linear.

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Guide to Christmas lights - Red house with lights
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Assess what you have and test everything

Now you should have a general idea of how you want your house to look, and the measurements you’ll need to create the outdoor Christmas lights display of your dreams. But before you start shopping for blinking LED lights and white rope lights, take a good look at the decorations you already have.

Drag everything out from storage, wipe it clean and plug it in. Discard or repair any broken lights or decor. Then make a list of what you have and what you’ll need so you can refer to it while you shop. Using a Christmas light tester is a smart way to check your old lights.

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Guide to Christmas lights - Front of home animal lights
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Buy outdoor Christmas lights

It’s time to create an itemized shopping list broken down by each location you plan to decorate. Your list will also include the amount of lights or decorations you’ll need for that space and any accessories (ahem, extension cords and insulated holders) that you may need in each location.

But how many lights to buy? According to Lowe’s, a good rule of thumb is 100 lights for every one to one-and-a-half feet of tree or shrub you want to cover. Denser lights equal brighter lights. Check below for some of our best Christmas light ideas, and where to find them.

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Guide to Christmas lights - Bells
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Install your outdoor Christmas lights

Installing outdoor Christmas lights is pretty easy, as long as you’ve accounted for power needs and have all of the lights and installation tools you’ll need. As in, don’t skip straight to this step! Do your planning, testing and shopping first.

The location and type of lights you decide on will determine the best method of installation for each. There can be a lot of variables when it comes to creating outdoor Christmas light displays, but there are a few basics.

To attach outdoor Christmas lights to your gutters, use an all-purpose light clip. Hang the lights pointing up or down, just make sure they’re all clipped in the same direction. For hanging lights in a tree, try using a light-hanging pole (especially if you don’t want to get on a ladder). Deck clips work nicely for attaching lights to your deck railings. For your bushes, try net lights, which are like a blanket of lights.

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Guide to Christmas lights - Man with ladder putting lights up
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Outdoor Christmas light pro tips

  • Keep your receipts and original packaging in case you need to return or exchange them.
  • Put extra installation clips in your pocket or tool belt; it will save you from going up and down the ladder.
  • Tools to have handy include utility scissors, box cutters, zip ties, outdoor rated electrical tape and a measuring tape.
  • Consider investing in a remote so you can control your outdoor Christmas tree lights from the warmth of your living room.

Next, here are 10 holiday safety tips to keep in mind.

The Family Handyman
Originally Published on The Family Handyman

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