Homeowners’ Guide to Outdoor Christmas Lights
This year, elevate your house to "oooh and ahhh" status with the best outdoor Christmas lights.
Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links. Ratings and prices are accurate and items are in stock as of time of publication.
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.
Want more lighting tips? Here’s our homeowner’s guide to holiday lighting.
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.
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 and our guide to 15 types of Christmas lights 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 color 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. Check out the most outrageous Christmas lights of all time for some serious inspiration.
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.
Check out these measuring hacks any DIY-er should know.
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; here’s how to use it.
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.
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.
Wait for nightfall and enjoy your handiwork through the holiday season. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by installing Christmas tree lights, Walmart will install your outdoor Christmas tree lights this year.
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.
Best Christmas Light Ideas
Not sure which types of outdoor Christmas lights to buy? Here are our favorites, from net lights to rope lights to twinkly LED lights that sync to your favorite holiday soundtrack.
Twinkly Smart Decorations Custom LED String Lights
If you want to go all out on your outdoor Christmas lights — and we do mean all out — the Twinkly Smart String Lights are it. These WiFi-enabled Christmas lights offer 16 million color choices that can be programmed in an infinite number of moving, blinking and multicolored patterns.
The app’s built-in mapping feature allows individual lights to create custom effects. You can even sync the flashing lights to move in time with music (might we suggest “Rocking Around The Christmas Tree”?). These are more expensive than most other Christmas lights, but the endless possibilities mean you won’t get bored.
Considering LED lights? Here’s what the experts have to say on buying and installing LED lights.
Ollny Led Net Lights
For instillation ease, it’s hard to beat net lights. These, by Oliny, consists of 200 LED lights spaced on 9.8 feet by 6.6 feet of mesh for easy hanging on bushes or the front porch. The net lights also come with a remote control with eight modes you can program for different light shows. Note that the lights and wires are waterproof but the control box is not, so keep the latter away from the elements.
LED Rope Lights
These rope lights are low voltage, so they won’t get super hot and be dangerous for pets, kids or your lawn. That’s good, because rope lights look best when laid alongside a driveway or walkway. The tube light is IP65, which is safe for snow and rain. We like that these tube lights are flexible, so you can easily bend them into any shape you want. Simply place them and plug them in. Voilà!
Sylvania Icicle Christmas Lights
With outdoor Christmas lights, sometimes beauty comes from simplicity. Enter Sylvania icicle Christmas lights. These clear incandescent bulbs create a traditional look to outdoor decorating. We like that the wires are white instead of green, which doesn’t look as clean in our opinion. Past users recommended caution when storing these lights. Here are some Christmas storage tricks to know.
Star Christmas String Lights
Looking for outdoor Christmas light ideas that add a lot of interest without a lot of investment? Check out these star Christmas string lights, Hang them in clusters from trees for a dramatic and colorful display, or space them out along the roof line for more visual impact. You can also play with different vertical hanging distances.
The set comes with two large stars and four smaller ones, with 100 bulbs in all and 18 inches rational string spacing. And yes, you can set these to flashing mode for added shine.