Outdoor Christmas Lighting Tips

DIY Network's licensed electrician James Young shares tips and tricks for installing outdoor Christmas lighting properly so your joy lasts the whole season.
Stunning Christmas Light Display

Stunning Christmas Light Display

Holiday Lighting Tips 04:01

Carol Duvall's tips & tricks for lighting up a brilliant outdoor tree.

Be Cautious When Installing Exterior Lighting

Use a good ladder when installing your lights. Secure them with insulated holders (never use tacks or nails). Don't install your lights on trees that come in contact with power lines. Before installing your Christmas lights, plug them in to make sure all of your bulbs are working. Make sure to turn your lights off when you leave or go to bed at night.

Play it Safe Hanging Lights

Play it Safe Hanging Lights

Christmas Light Displays

See All Photos
See 15 outrageously themed outdoor Christmas light displays.

Gingerbread House

Candy Land

Photo By: NATALIE IERKHOVA

Tropical Christmas

Secret Garden

The North Pole

Busy Christmas Village

Toyland

Noel, Noel

Eye-Catching Neon

Classic Holidays

Polar Express

Roof Display

Caribbean Color

Photo By: Flavio Vallenari

Lakeside Festivities

Inviting Entryway

Use the Proper Outlet

For starters, safety first! Your source of power should come from a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet. This type of outlet will shut the circuit down if there is overcurrent. We want your lights to shine, not sparks to fly! If you don't have a GFCI outlet, a qualified electrician can permanently install one outdoors for holiday seasons to come. Or, you can buy a portable outdoor unit from your local home store for less than $20.

GFCI Plug Outlet

GFCI Plug Outlet

Keep Extension Cords Out of the Way

When using extension cords, make sure they are rated for outdoor use, and keep the connections above ground, snow and water. Try to avoid high-traffic areas. Tape cords across walkways, and use the correct length needed to travel to your lights. You don't want your cords to be too long so they pile up and create walking hazards.

Always Choose Waterproof Lights

There is a variety of lights to choose from. First and foremost, always use waterproof or water-resistant lights with a tag marked underwriters lab (UL). This means the lights meet national industry standards with the American National Standards Institute. Also, when you're buying Christmas lights to use outside, make sure they are rated for outdoor use (just like your extension cords). Never use indoor Christmas lights outdoors.

Waterproof Christmas Lights

Waterproof Christmas Lights

Using C7 or C9 Bulbs

For a more traditional holiday light, you will want to use a C7 or C9. These are the cone-shape lights you'll find most often in home improvement and convenience stores. The difference in these lights is size and wattage, with C9 being a little bigger and easier to see from a distance. Both come in frosted or clear color bulbs and are great for illuminating both your house and trees.

You can buy these in strands of 25 bulbs or larger strands of 100 bulbs. The 25-bulb strands can be connected together (daisy chained) up to a maximum of three strands; 100-bulb strands should be connected separately. Don't connect them together! The C7 and C9 strands use a standard screw-in candelabra base for easy bulb replacement. The strands are connected so if one bulb fails it only affects itself. Buying light strands with inner fuses is a great idea to prevent excess current on the strands.

Traditional Christmas Lights

Traditional Christmas Lights

Using Miniature Bulbs

Another option for outdoor lighting is the "miniature," which costs less and consumes less power than the classic outdoor light string. It can be used around the perimeter of your home, as well as in trees. In most cases, the miniature comes in strands of 50 or 100. The strings run in series, which means if one bulb or socket fails, you can lose a whole section.

The positive thing is that most miniature bulbs have a shunt inside of them to keep the entire string of lights lit if a bulb filament burns out. The key is to quickly replace the burned-out bulb. The shunt will allow the rest of the lights to remain lit, but it will increase the voltage in the rest of the bulbs, reducing their lifetime. With miniatures, you get what you pay for, so get a quality set of lights, and don't connect more than three sets of strings.

Miniature Christmas Lights

Miniature Christmas Lights

Using Landscape Net Lighting

To light shrubs and bushes, net lighting is a great way to go. Net lighting is a mesh of interconnected mini LED lights that can drape right over your shrubs like a blanket. No more weaving light strings in and out of branches!

Holiday Net Lighting Display

Holiday Net Lighting Display

Using Animated Lighting

Animated lights are great for Nativity scenes, as well as reindeer and angel displays. Animated lights are made of wire frames outlining different shapes and scenes, and they are surrounded with mini lights in different color variations and patterns.

Animated Christmas Decor

Animated Christmas Decor

Using Shimmer Spheres

Shimmer spheres come in shaped and circular formations, like snowballs, or stars and striped formations. They are made up of many lights in different sizes. You can even find some that twinkle. Your house will be shining with holiday cheer for the whole block to enjoy.

Shimmer Sphere Christmas Lighting

Shimmer Sphere Christmas Lighting

Photo by: NATALIE IERKHOVA

NATALIE IERKHOVA

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