How to hang Christmas lights like a pro this holiday season

Want to brighten up your home for the holidays? Here’s how to hang Christmas lights like a pro – from choosing to installing yours

Christmas lights
(Image credit: Spike Mafford/Getty)

Amidst the dark nights of winter, Christmas lights brighten up your surroundings, bring festivity and joy to the outside of your home. Whether you're a beginner installing lights for the first time or a seasoned light slinging experts creating a light display that could rival that of Disney World, you probably recognize that there is a certain art to installing lights. 

Now, before you get started hanging? Here's everything you need to know about how to hang Christmas lights, like the type of lights you can use and the best way to install them. 

Here's how your home can be on its way to being merry and bright with one of the most important Christmas decorations out there: 

Everything needed to get started

  • Measuring tape
  • Light Strands
  • Light Clips and Hooks
  • Ladder
  • Timer

How to determine how many lights you need

The most important steps to determining how many Christmas fairy light strands you need: mapping out where you'd like the lights and measuring.

While you could map out in your mind where you'd like your lights, snap a photo of your house from the street, print it out, and then draw with a permanent marker the areas you'd like to have lit up. Be sure to consider the areas you'd like to highlight or make a focal point. 

Measure along where you want to hang lights, whether that be along your roof, driveway, shrubs, pillars or railings. Make sure to also measure the distance to your power source; it would be depressing to do all the labor and then not have a way to plug your handiwork in.  Once you do this, make sure you jot down the measurements so you can recall how much you need to use for future years. 

If you plan to wrap strands of lights around trees or shrubs, a good rule of thumb is 100 lights for every 1.5-feet of tree or shrub you want to cover. Therefore, 6-foot evergreen trees need at least 400 lights for a basic level of lighting. Another popular option is draping a mesh lighting net over your landscaping for a dramatic effect. 

Christmas lights

(Image credit: Photo by Bob Ricca on Unsplash)

Explore lighting options

There are so many varying lights that you can use for your light display. However, the most important thing to remember when it comes to fairy light safety is that you use lights that are labeled for outdoor use, as these can withstand rain and snow and maintain their electrical connections. You'll be of safer mind knowing you choose lighting that is UL certified as well. 

Christmas String Lights

The most commonly used type of light with bulbs that resemble a candle with a pointed tip. They are generally 1/4-inch in diameter and 5/8-inch tall. Choose from incandescent, LEDs, or even smart bulbs, but don't mix! 

Holiday Home Accents 300-Light Clear Incandescent Light Set | $8.99 at The Home Depot

One strand runs 68-feet, featuring 300 mini-bulbs that give off a white light. It comes with extra bulbs and stays lit even if one light goes out. View Deal

612 Vermont 100 Clear Christmas Lights on White Wire | $9.99 at Amazon

Go for the winter white look with this 18-foot strand that includes 100 bulbs. Up to five strands can be connected. View Deal

Holiday Time Indoor and Outdoor Clear Mini Christmas Lights | $8.26 at Walmart

Light up your exterior with 300 bulbs over 59-feet.  The set stays lit even if one bulb burns out, and includes two independent 50 light circuits that can be made to blink by replacing any one of the bulbs in that circuit with a red-tipped twinkle bulb.  Connect up to 3 sets of this exact string of lights using the end to end connectionView Deal

LED Christmas Lights

LED lights are more efficient, durable, and longer-lasting than fluorescent incandescent options. They use light-emitting diodes, rather than filament to produce their light. However, they do cost more upfront. 

SANJICHA String Lights Indoor/Outdoor, Upgraded Super Bright Christmas Lights | $16.99 at Amazon

With eight light modes, these warm light LEDs offer 200 bulbs across 66 feet and are waterproof with a 29V plug. View Deal

Holiday Time 300 LED String Lights Colorful Mini Lights | $25.99 at Walmart

Install a rainbow of lights with this 61-foot strand with 300 LEDs. View Deal

500 Smooth Mini LED in Spool, Warm White |$39.98 at The Home Depot

Two strands of 250 lights each create 124-feet of light. Also comes with a spool for easy and safe off-season storage. View Deal

Icicle Lights

Icicle string lights mimic the appearance of icicles hanging on overhangs, peaks, and windows. They can look like actual icicles or represent any light that hangs vertically. 

LightShow 48-Light Blue/White Shooting Star Christmas Icicle LED String Light | $29.98 at The Home Depot

With a special shooting star effect, this seven-foot strand featuring eight LEDs in various sized icicles in icy blue and white scattered among cascading LED lights, has a mesmerizing shooting star effect.  Step up to master this year's tree trends, decorate along rooflines and patios or more. Up to 18 sets can be connected to a frozen display. View Deal

SYLVANIA Icicle Christmas Lights, Clear | $14.99 at Amazon

The set comes with two strands each featuring 150 incandescent lights with 27 drops and is just under 11-feet in length.  Up to 3 sets can be connected, totaling 450 lights. View Deal

Brite Star 100ct Mini Icicle Christmas Lights Clear| $13.49 at Walmart

One-hundred icicle lights create a lush effect across 7.1-feet alternating in drop length. Up to five units can be attached to each other. 

 View Deal

C9 Christmas Lights

C9 bulbs are the largest of the strawberry-shaped Christmas lights measuring 1.25-inches in diameter and 2.5-inches inches tall. Their noticeable shape makes them perfect for outlining and wrapping indoors and out and can either have a faceted or smooth texture. They are typically available in incandescent and LEDs, as well as smart, color-changing types that are on the market too. 

NOMA C9 LED Quick Clip Christmas Lights | $29.99 at Amazon

This 16-foot strand with 25 C9-sized bulbs makes installation quicker and easier with the patented attached clips for rooflines. Connect up to 90, yes, you read that correctly, stands for over 2,100 lights. Choose from several color options that store in a convenient storage box. View Deal

Home Accents Holiday 61 ft. 100-Light Warm White LED C9 Light String on a Spool | $29.98 at The Home Depot

Let your exterior glitter and glow with this set featuring two strings with 50 LED bulbs each with various modes, including flashing, fading, and steady on settings. This set extends up to 61-feet, and you can connect up to 45 more sets. View Deal

Novelty Lights C9 Clear Christmas String Light Set | $19.95 at Amazon

This 25-foot string has 25 transparent C9 light bulbs. Connect up to three strands at a time. Choose from seven different colors and an assorted color set. View Deal

C7 Christmas Lights

C7 lights are the mid-size strawberry-shaped lights, but with a more rounded, bulbous look. They measure 1-inch in diameter and 1.5- inches tall. 

Wintergreen Lighting SuperBright 16 ft. 25-Light Multi-Color C7 String LED Light Set | $24.98 at The Home Depot

These multi-color C7 LED lights are spaced 8-inches across 16-feet and have a 100,000-hour lifespan with a three-year warranty.  Choose from multicolor, red, green, blue, or white lights. View Deal

Boutique Window 25Ft Christmas Lights C7 Clear Lights | $21.99 at Amazon 

This 25-foot long strand with 25 bulbs spaces one bulb every foot.  Up to three strands can be connected. Each C7 bulb's life span is 2,500-hours.  View Deal

Vickerman Warm White LED C7 Single Mold String Lights, 25 Count | $17.32 at Walmart

Connect up to 90 sets together with of these 16-foot long LED C7 light strings with a five-year warranty. View Deal

C6 Christmas Lights:

C6 Christmas lights are the smallest of the strawberry-shaped lights, measuring 3/4-inch in diameter and 1 1/8-inches tall.

Home Accent Holiday 68 ft. 200-Light LED Multi-Color Faceted C6 Super Bright String Light | $39.98 at The Home Depot

This extra-long set of 200 C6 LEDs shine 3 times brighter than traditional LED lights. View Deal

Other Lighting Types:

Beyond the traditional lights discussed above, amp up your display with net lights, battery operated lights, magical twinkly lights—or even add a new level of tech into your yard with smart lights!

Holiday Time LED Cool White Net Lights, 150 Count | $12.96 at Walmart

Drape shrubs, trees, and even your roof for a quick and bright source of enchanting light.  The net light measures four by six feet. View Deal

Koopower 36ft 100 LED Outdoor Battery Fairy Lights | $10.99 at Amazon

When no power source is nearby or you want to light up a tree in the middle of your yard, battery-operated lights that are safe for outdoor conditions will be your saving grace.  This top-rated set also works with a remote and a timer so you don't have to go searching for the end of the plug. It uses 3 AAA batteries and has 8 lighting modes. View Deal

ELlight Outdoor String Lights 39ft 100LED, Dream Color Christmas Lights with APP | $54.99 at Amazon

Customize your own light show with this strand of waterproof LED lights that can change colors at your whims through an app with more than 120 rainbow chasing modes with a variety of colors, brightness, and speed options. Your neighbors have never seen color options quite like this before. View Deal

Home Accents Holiday 150-Light Miniature Twinkle Light Set | $14.98 at The Home Depot

Every 5th bulb twinkles for a sparkling effect on this 37-foot light string with 150 bulbs. Connect up to three sets at a time. View Deal

How to install Christmas lights

Once you've surmised the right lighting type for your display, before you start hanging, check the light strands to make sure they work.

Next,  you'll want to have an abundance of clips on hand. Depending on where you're hanging lights, adhesive clips are best for columns or railings while universal clips are best for rooflines. It's best to add the clips to the string before you string along rooflines so you can slide rooftop lights in place by inserting the clips in the gutter or between the roof and shingles.  For adhesive clips, adhere to its designated surface in regular intervals so you can seamlessly attach the string light. 

Holiday Joy 200 All Purpose Gutter Hooks for Outdoor Christmas Lights | $17.99 at Amazon

These all-purpose light clips fit almost any gutter, shingle, or roof edge and work with C4, C5, C6, C7, C9, mini, icicle, rope, LED lights, and more. They're easy to install and can even display two strings at once for dual effects. View Deal

Command Outdoor Light Clips, 24 Clips, | $9.99 at Amazon

Easily hang your outdoor string lights with these adhesive clips that won't damage or leave behind any residue on your railings, walls, or pillars. It's advised to use one clip for every two feet of lights. View Deal

When on a ladder, you don't want to be fumbling with little pieces, so it's safest and most convenient to have the clips planned out in advance. If you're up high on a roof, grab a buddy to help stabilize the ladder and keep any lengthy light strings from getting tangled.

Once your light display is ready to go, whether on your whole house or on a Christmas wreath, set it to a timer so it can be scheduled to turn on and off at your chosen time of day, so you don't have to worry about remembering to turn them on or off.

And voilà, follow these guidelines, and you'll soon be on your way to a magical lighting display to complement your Christmas inflatables and the rest of your festive deco. No matter if it's your first time or your 25th, now it's time to flip the switch and enjoy your handiwork!

Quick tips for installing and choosing lights

  • Safety first! Don't hang up lights during snowy or rainy weather
  • Make sure lights are UL certified for outdoor use
  • Plug-in lights to make sure they work before install
  • Don't mix light types ( i.e. incandescent vs LEDs) within the same power outlet
  • Ideally use lights from the same maker to make sure they are all the same color for uniformity
  • While a staple gun may seem like a quick and easy way to attach lights, it makes for a more difficult disassembly. Additionally, nails are more likely to ruin wires. Opt for plastic clips.