Stringing lights over the patio adds whimsy and a warm glow. Follow these planning tips to get the most out of your efforts.
String lights are the new tiki torches. People love the county fair or outdoor Parisian cafe feel of a string of bulbs draped over a patio. Many kinds of string lights are up for the task of transforming your space into your own cheerful promenade or intimate bistro. You’ll need to consider several factors to determine your plan.
Types of bulbs
When it comes to string light bulbs, you have a choice between LEDs or incandescent bulbs. LED stands for “Light Emitting Diode.” These little workhorses of the light world were invented in the 1970s but weren’t streamlined for consumer use until more recently.
- require less energy
- are longer lasting
- and are more durable than incandescent bulbs (i.e. the “regular” bulbs you grew up with).
If you want more illumination and less of a strain on your electricity bill, then LEDs are the way to go. If you want a more traditional look of Edison-type light bulbs, then incandescents are your best bet. If you’re set on that old-time look, save energy by buying low-wattage incandescent bulbs. You’ll need other light sources to illuminate walkways and your patio, but you’ll get the aesthetic you want with the antique-copy bulbs. Electrical requirements also should be considered. A long line of incandescent bulbs can put a strain on the home’s resources. Make sure to know the limits of the wattage output of your home and what the string lights require.
Anchoring Perfectly situated trees make stringing up lights a snap. Not all of us are that lucky, though, so we’ll need other ways to accomplish the “up” part of stringing up lights. Attaching the lights to the home’s exterior is an option and will make cording to an electrical outlet easier. A flagpole may be tempting but it isn’t recommended to anchor lights with, as it could interfere with hoisting flags. Pergolas and other permanent structures are good candidates for string light points-of-contact. Other self-contained, free-standing anchors can be DIY-ed. Where there are lights, there are ways to string them up. Get creative. A little cement in an (obviously dedicated) shiny metal bucket and a tall branch can give you the rustic anchor you need for your string lights. Martha Stewart uses a less-permanent solution of garden stones and wooden poles.
You’ll need more length of lights than you think. Your beautiful pergola may be 100 feet from the house, but 100 feet of lights won’t reach the house. You’ll need a bit more than that to account for the swag in the line. Super taut string lights will break, because the tension is too much stress on the wires. Think “draping” instead of “pulling” the wires. This gives a more cozy, professional look and is better for the string lights.
A little drape in the swag is better for the wires, but the bulbs may sway in the wind. This is to be expected and is part of the charm of string lights, but you’ll want to make sure the bulbs have a chance to sway in freedom, away from hard surfaces and each other. Broken incandescent bulbs can be replaced but cleaning up glass from a patio isn’t how you want to spend your summer. String up the lights, then give each string a gentle push to test whether it’s in danger of shattering.
Another consideration is your equipment. Stringing lights too high will mean a trip up a very tall ladder each time a bulb burns out. Indoor room ceilings are on average about 10-12 feet high. Any strings draped above 15 feet off the ground may lose their dramatic effect. Stick with the lower heights.
Don’t be a square. You don’t need to string your lights above the patio table in a rectangle that echoes the plot of land you have. Z patterns, V shapes, and criss-crosses are some of the more popular string-light patterns for patios. You can try various designs.
Go for it
String lights are meant to stay up for the season. Get lights approved for outdoor use and secure them well. You’ll be tripping the light fantastic under your own little canopy of stars all summer long.