How to hang Christmas lights: tips for both indoors and outdoors

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

house lit up for christmas
(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 and some added dangers to doing it at height.

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. We have covered everything from installing them on your house, round a tree and then indoors too. 

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 is a wide range of designs and color options. From classic string lights to icicle lights and then some which are built onto a structure to make shapes and characters.

If you don't have a powerpoint nearby, try solar fairly lights. They don't shine as brightly or for as long, but will add a lovely bit of sparkle around your yard – just put the solar panel in good sunlight.

See places to browse different Christmas lights below:

How to install Christmas lights

Homebase Christmas lights outside

Homebase stock a wide range of fairy lights for outdoor use. Shown here are Star 100 Party Lights Warm White £13.34; 180 Berry Lights White £16.67; and 180 Berry Lights Multicolour £16.67

(Image credit: Homebase)

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. 

Quick tips for installing and choosing lights

1. Safety first! Don't hang up lights during snowy or rainy weather
2. Make sure lights are UL certified for outdoor use
3. Plug-in lights to make sure they work before install
4. Don't mix light types ( i.e. incandescent vs LEDs) within the same power outlet
5. Ideally use lights from the same maker to make sure they are all the same color for uniformity
6. 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. 

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!

How to hang fairy lights indoors

Indoor lighting is less complex without the worries of weather and water, but should still be carefull considered for safety. Make sure you don't overload sockets and avoid fitting string lights where young children could get tangled or hurt.

There are so many creative Christmas fairy light ideas, but here are some top tips and products for using them indoors.

Fairy lights: Amazon Lights4fun SLF-200-YWC 200 Warm White LED Clear Cable Indoor Fairy Lights 16m

(Image credit: Amazon)

Student room chic is definitely a thing, and we love this idea for displaying your favourite snaps on a string of fairy lights. These Lights4fun lights from Amazon are the perfect size and colour, and come Christmas you can hang cards off them, too. Buy them in the US here.

2. Create trails inside windows

Fairy lights: Warm white star curtain Christmas lights

(Image credit: Very)

Nothing says curb appeal like welcoming window displays, so dress yours up with trailing string lights that hang down against the glass. These star curtain lights from Very allow you to get the look with minimum effort, but you could also arrange some fairy lights on your windowsill or attach them to the frame for a stunning effect.

3. Place in a bowl or vase if you don't have anywhere to hang them

Fairy lights: LED lighting chain with 40 lights

(Image credit: Ikea)

Ikea is a classic go-to for fairy lights and their Snöyra style is particularly dainty, which means they're perfect for filling up jars or glassware for a firefly effect. Place a few twinkling jars on a table, or weave a string of lights along the middle of the table for a stunning centrepiece to a dinner party. In the US? Buy the lights here.