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How to install outdoor string lighting

Workshop Legend



Decorative lights bring ambience to alfresco dining and offer a low-cost transformation to any outdoor area.


This guide shows you how to select the best lights for your needs and set them up in a safe and secure way.


Solar or mains power


A solar-powered light system uses a panel that generates electricity through the day, which it stores in a battery. At sunset, a light sensor turns the lights on. Most will have enough energy to keep running all night. The main advantages are that they don’t need to be connected to a mains power and can be used in remote areas of a yard without the need for extra cables. Solar-powered lights need excellent access to sunlight every day to charge up. Their light output levels make them ambient rather than amenity lighting.


tom_builds connected three sets of festoon lights for his patiotom_builds connected three sets of festoon lights for his patio

Mains-powered low-voltage lighting can be a lot more functional and flexible. You can buy systems with brighter globes, and they may also be dimmable. Their primary restriction is that they need access to a power point. Many light sets overcome this issue by having a generous length of lead wire (the length of cable between the wall plug and the first globe).


If you plan on making a lighting installation a year-round or seasonal fixture, consider getting an electrician to install an exterior power point in the best location. For temporary light installations, use a heavy-duty extension cord that’s made for use outdoors with a weatherproof safety cover where the leads join.


Selecting lights for your set up


You’ll find a wide selection of lights to choose from for your home or event space – party lights, festoon lights, fairy lights, rope lights and more. Before selecting lights, consider the following to get the right kind for your set up.


  • Will the light levels and colour suit your needs? This is where colour-changing systems can be the best choice – white and bright while you’re working the BBQ, dimmed down, warm and relaxed while you dine and switched over to colour when the music gets started.


  • Do you have easy and safe access to a suitable power point?


  • What is the distance from the power point to where you’d like your lights to start? This will often be expressed on the box as length before first globe. Measure the distance that the cable will run rather than measuring a straight line. For example, a cable may run up a wall and across a beam.


Centrepiecefurn hung lights on outdoor timber screeningCentrepiecefurn hung lights on outdoor timber screening

  • What is the overall lit length? The lit length is the feature that may make or break your choice of lights, although some light strings can be joined together to increase their length.


  • Will you be able to fix your lights easily and securely in the intended location?


  • Will you have a straight run or scoop downwards in gentle curves? Globe spacing determines how well you can create this look. If you plan on swagging your string, replicate this on the ground first. Work out even spacings and globe numbers between fix off points.


How to secure outdoor lights


Every lighting set up is different based on the material you are securing your lights to and if you want a temporary or permanent installation. Here are a few ways to install outdoor string lighting:


Cable clips


Cable clips (plastic clamps with an integrated nail) are nailed in to secure a cable and are often used by electricians. They are available in sizes to accommodate almost any cable diameter. Select a size that will hold the cable snug without crushing it. Most are designed for timber, but you will find some with masonry nails.




P-clips look like a P when viewed sideways. The cable is positioned in the head of the P and then a nail or screw goes through the back “leg” of the P, holding the cable and securing it in place.


Stick-on cable clips


Stick-on cable clips are small self-adhesive clips that can be easily closed and popped back open as required. These are ideal when you want to move lights or swap regular lights for festive ones. These clips stick securely to most smooth surfaces such as gutters and are also ideal for tin roofs.


Multi-purpose clips


Gutter and multi-purpose clips are intended for seasonal displays, but they can be useful in other scenarios such as running along the top of timber fences. These clips are all “friction fit” so are not secured in place.




weekenddiyer secured festoon lights using eye hooks and cable tiesweekenddiyer secured festoon lights using eye hooks and cable ties

Screw hooks and eye hooks are available in a range of sizes and can easily be screwed into any timber. These are ideal for use in conjunction with cable ties. For larger hooks, it’s wise to pre-drill first.


A cable can be slung in a cup-type screw hook and then held in place with a cable tie. Or thread a cable tie through an eye hook and around the cable to secure it. Only use galvanised or stainless-steel hooks outdoors.


Cable ties


Cable ties can be used to secure a cable to just about any beam or post you can wrap them around. If your ties aren’t long enough you can always join two or more together and cut their tails off for a neat finish. Make sure you don’t crush your cable when you pull the cable tie tight.


Tips for installing fairy lights


Fairy lights can add an air of romance or festive cheer to any outdoor space. Selection and installation are similar to other types of string lighting but as fairy lights are often installed in trees there are a few extra considerations.


  • Start from the bottom of the trunk and loosely wrap the lights around the trunk and along branches. No fixtures are required.


  • Avoid using any nails or screws when fitting to live trees. Cable ties can be a good option but it’s important that they are not over tightened as this may ringbark the tree.


  • The best way to use cable ties is to position a large tie with a thick strap around the trunk or a branch and tighten to the point where there is still movement. A good measure is being able to slide a couple of fingers underneath. Then loop smaller cable ties through this loose loop and around the cable, pulling the small ties tight.


Lighting safety


It’s important to put these safety tips into practice when installing and operating outdoor lighting.


  • Make sure that the circuit the lighting is plugged into has an up-to-date safety switch in your main electricity box.


  • Avoid concealing leads in garden beds as they can be easily overlooked and damaged.


  • Make sure that you are familiar with the location of power cables or pipes in walls and ceilings if using a drill to install lights.


  • Position lights and the transformer where they can’t accidentally be touched as they can get hot. Ensure good air circulation around the transformer and keep globes and the transformer away from combustible materials.


  • Don’t connect lights until you have finished stringing them.


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