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A Step-by-Step Guide to Outdoor Holiday Lights

step by step guide outdoor holiday lighting christmas

As the darkest day of the year approaches (the winter solstice, not Christmas for all you Grinches out there), it never hurts to add a little more light to your home. Festive holiday lights can help brighten your mood and get you in the spirit of the season. Setting up outdoor holiday lights can sometimes be a bit of a hassle, but we’re here to help make the process as smooth as possible.

1. Pick Your Lights

There are several different types of lights you can utilize in your outdoor decorations. It’s important to make sure that the lights you choose are rated for outdoor use, which will be indicated on the package or in the product description. Once you’ve determined they’re safe for outside, you’ll need to decide on what colour and type of lights to get. Classic white or multicolour? String or rope light?

Alternately, you can forgo light strands altogether and instead opt for bathing trees or other yard features with light from a spike light:

This look has become a classic in recent years, and offers a much easier alternative to string lights for those who don’t have the time or aren’t able to set up traditional strands.

If you’re having a hard time deciding on a look, there are a few different themes you can try:

White lights, red ribbons, greenery, and lanterns—it’s a classic winter look for a reason. This style paints an elegant image. Bonus: add LED candles to every window for even more of that old-fashioned look.

Image Credit: edenpictures via Flickr.

For a minimalistic, modern look, think colour-blocked bushes, sleek silhouettes, geometric shapes, and rope lights. Blue lights are especially popular this year.
Gingerbread House
For the candy lovers out there, enjoy the look of a festive gingerbread house without the sticky mess or extra calories.

Image Credit: gabesk via Flickr.

If you love the look of lots of lights, maximalism is for you. And with LED lights, you don’t have to worry about blowing a fuse or having a huge electricity bill. Their efficient energy use will help keep costs down.

Image Credit: superwebdeveloper via Flickr.

Winter Wonderland
Embrace the ice and snow! White lights, icicles, and snowflakes complete this cool look.

Image Credit: chuckmartin via Flickr.

Classic Christmas
Santa Claus, Frosty, and the reindeer are all invited to this impressive installation. Channel the Christmas spirit with your lights by incorporating classic shapes such as candy canes, presents, and ornaments and traditional red, white, and green colours.

Image Credit: diongillard via Flickr.

3. Test Your Lights

Before you put up the lights, make sure you test every single strand, both old and new. You don’t want to get them all up and find out, after all that effort, that the bulbs are burnt out and need to be returned or tossed.

4. Decorate

Now that you’ve doubled-checked that your lights are working, it’s time to decorate! Let’s look at the dos and don’ts of putting up your outdoor holiday lights, and some of the key areas you should remember to include:


  • Put your lights on a timer and use a surge protector.
  • Use hooks, clips, and cable ties to safely attach lights to your home.
  • Space clips a maximum of 12 inches apart.
  • Use a ladder and ask for assistance with difficult-to-reach areas.
  • Mix different light sources for a layered look, and remember to adjust year-round lighting by switching to dimmer bulbs or festive coloured bulbs so it doesn’t interfere with your seasonal additions.
  • Consider how it will look from the street. What looks good up close may not be as appealing from further back.


  • Use a staple or nail gun to hang lights. This can damage both your property and the string lights, creating a fire hazard.
  • Stand on the top step of the ladder, have less than 3 points of contact (for example, two feet and one hand), overreach, or use one without asking for someone to hold it for stability. Don’t be like Clark Griswold.
  • Climb up onto the roof without taking appropriate safety steps. Check out these rules from Better Homes & Gardens for safely working on a rooftop.
  • Connect strings with different numbers of lights, which can burn them out prematurely.

YouTube video

Key Areas to Illuminate

  • Lamp post – A traditional spot to adorn with a swag, don’t forget to add some additional illumination to your lamp post, whether you wrap string lights around the post or add some sparkle to evergreen boughs.
  • Front door, Windows, and Porch – Use the frame of your house to create a classic Christmas silhouette—try running lights along the door frame, windows, and roof, or wrapping strands around pillars. A twinkling wreath on the door is an easy way to add light, and you can use battery operated lights to keep the cord hidden.
  • Stair rails, Walkways, and Fences – A great way to invite guests into your home this season—and warn them about hard-to-see ice patches—is to string up or lay down lights, or set up lanterns along the railings, fences, and walkways leading to your home.
  • Hedges, Trees, and Planters – Decorating your bushes, trees, and planters with lights helps to create a magical garden. If you find the prospect of decorating all the plants in your yard a little daunting, don’t worry! Rather than wrapping bushes the whole way round, drape string lights in an “S” shape to display the maximum amount of lights towards the road. For an simpler way to decorate trees, wrap trunks rather than branches, or bath them in light with a flood lamp.

If hanging lights outside is too difficult, you can still show off your lights by hanging them in a visible location in your window. That way, you also have the option of using indoor lights with fun and festive designs.

Let It Shine

The weather may be cold, dark, and dreary, but outdoor holiday lights can help brighten up even the greyest days and longest nights. Set up your outdoor holiday lights with our simple tips and come home from work to their warm, welcoming glow.

Don’t forget to deck the halls indoors! Check out 9 ways to decorate for the holidays using fairy lights and 8 ways to use them all year round.


About Nicky Walker

Nicola is a lighting specialist at The Lightbulb Company with a keen awareness of the important role lighting plays in our everyday lives. She enjoys discovering new ways in which lighting can affect science, mental health and of course, most of all, reduce our carbon footprints.