Woman in Santa hat hangs Christmas lights

Few things are more magical during the holidays than a tree strung with hundreds—or even thousands—of twinkling Christmas lights. Getting it to look picture perfect? A little less magical, unless you know exactly what you’re doing. That’s why we’ve created a guide filled with Christmas light ideas, frequently asked questions and clever installation tips so you can decorate your tree or the exterior of your home on budget and without tripping yourself up.

Questions to ask when buying and installing Christmas lights

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1What’s the difference between incandescent Christmas lights and LED Christmas lights?

Wondering what type of lightbulbs to go for? Here are the pros and cons of incandescent lights versus LEDs:

Factor Incandescent Christmas lights LED
Christmas lights
Energy use Con: Old-fashioned incandescent lights use a lot of energy. Pro: LED Christmas lights use roughly 75 percent less energy.[1]
Colour Pro: Incandescent bulbs come in every shade, including the traditional warm white that gives off a vintage vibe. Con: First-generation LED lights only came in cool white, not warm white. There are more options now, but the hues can still look a little less traditional than incandescent lights.
Durability Con: You’ll need to replace bulbs as they burn out. Pro: Plug them in and they typically light up for several years without fail.[2]
Safety Con: Hot bulbs can pose a burning hazard for little kids. Pro: They don’t get hot to the touch, so they’re safer for kids and pets.
Cost Pro: They’re cheap and cheerful. Period. Pro/Con: They tend to be pricier, but last longer and won’t jack up your electricity bill.

2Should I go with fairy lights, icicle lights, rope lights or something else?

Graphic showing all the different types of Christmas lights including fairy lights, icicle lights, mini lights, C6, C7, C9 and G12 bulbs and more.

Here’s what you need to know about each type so you can take your Christmas décor from basic to beautiful:

  • Mini lights: Popular for Christmas trees and look like a narrow cylinder with a pointed tip.
  • G12: Ball-shaped bulbs that come in several sizes.
  • C6, C7, C9: Rounded teardrop-shaped bulbs that are popular for outdoor lighting. C6 is the smallest version and C9 is the largest.
  • Icicle lights: Lights that hang like icicles and are ideal for stringing outside along roof lines or around windows for that nostalgic snow-covered look.
  • Fairy lights: Delicate lights that are often battery powered and best used indoors for small projects like lighting a two-foot tree or filling mason jars.
  • Rope lights: Mini bulbs that are sealed into a clear tube, which makes them extra durable for outdoor use.
  • Net lights: Mini lights woven into a net shape for draping over small shrubs, mini trees or hedges.
  • Light projections: Projectors that cast shapes (like snowflakes) and allow you to cover your house in moving lights with minimal installation.
  • RGB LEDs: Programmable lights that can be set to display almost any colour of light[3] and are available for a variety of looks (mini, icicle, rope).

3How many lights do I need for my Christmas tree?

The rule of thumb is roughly 100 lights for every foot of tree.[4] Use this table as a guide:

Tree Height Number of Lights
4 to 6 feet 400 to 600
7 to 9 feet 700 to 900
10 to 12 feet 1,000 to 1,200

If you love a super sparkler or you have a tree that’s particularly wide, you might want to double or even triple that amount.

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Shopping Tip
Bulb spacing, string length, brightness and colour vary by brand. To keep a consistent look, stick to one brand and style for all of your tree lights.

4How many Christmas lights do I need for outside my home?

There are loads of options when it comes to creating yuletide cheer around the exterior of your house. Here’s what you’ll need to know:

Lighting for your house

  • Measure your home: To decide how many feet of lights you’ll need, measure the area you’d like lit including the length of your eaves, windowsills and/or porch railings.
  • Look at bulb spacing: Bulbs on 100-light strings are typically spaced three inches, four inches or six inches apart and vary in length. The shorter the distance between bulbs, the brighter the effect.

Lighting outdoor trees and bushes

  • Bushes and evergreens: Go for large bulbs and about 100 lights per foot of height.
  • Deciduous trees without leaves: Measure the circumference of the tree and estimate its height (both in inches). Decide how far apart you’d like the wires—three inches or about four fingers apart is standard. Now do some quick math: tree height x circumference ÷ spacing of wires = approximate length of lights needed. Keep in mind that you’ll need extra footage if you plan to wrap lots of branches.[5]
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Shopping Tip
For a professional look, match white Christmas light string to a light-hued house and green Christmas light string to a dark-hued house. When wrapping trees, choose green strands that will blend into the bark or branches in daylight.

Bonus lighting

  • Pathway lights: Lights with built-in stakes can brighten a driveway or walkway.
  • Projections: If stringing up hundreds of little lights isn’t for you, try a holiday light projector. Just plug in and point.

Print or Pin these quick shopping guides!

Chart for choosing the number of lights to put on your Christmas tree
Four steps for buying Christmas lights for your home

5What supplies do I need to install my outdoor Christmas lights?

You’ll need a few items on hand to get your lights strung up including:

  • Outdoor extension cords
  • Light timer
  • Tape measure
  • Plastic light clips for gutters and window frames (instead of nails to minimize damage to your home during installation)
  • Hammer
  • Ladder

Our Christmas Light Installation Must-Haves

6How do I hang Christmas lights?

Putting up your lights takes three easy steps.

How to hang Christmas lights on the exterior of your home

  1. Make a plan: Decide exactly where you want to hang your lights so you can map out how many bulbs and strands you’ll need. For a traditional look, consider stringing along rain gutters, around windows and on larger trees or shrubs.
  2. Test your lights: Whether they’re new or old, it’s always a good idea to test your lights before installation. Replace missing or burnt-out bulbs, check for signs of wear and ensure that the plug ends are both secure.
  3. String them up: Set up your ladder, then place the first bulb from the pronged end of a strand on the corner of the eave or window frame closest to an outlet. Extend the strand along the gutter or frame, keeping it taut and securing every foot or so with a clip. Check out this one-minute tutorial video to see how to install your lights using three different types of clips.

 How to put lights on a Christmas tree

  1. Test your strands: Once you’ve got your light count nailed down, plug in each strand to spot any bulbs that need replacing.
  2. Start stringing: Keep the first strand plugged in and start at the bottom back of the tree, stringing your lights around and through the branches, pushing some in closer to the trunk and pulling others to the front to create depth. Be sure to hide “dead zones,” or sections of unlighted cord, by pushing them deep into the branches.
  3. Check your work, then fix: Once you’ve reached the top and plugged in the topper, step back and look at your tree from all angles. Rearrange the Christmas tree lights wherever you see dark spots. You can even bend ornament hooks around the string to secure the lights where you want them. Now add Christmas decorations!

7What Christmas light safety tips should I keep in mind?

There are a few rules of thumb for safe, fun Christmas decorating:

  1. Make sure exterior lights and extension cords are designed for use outside in winter and clearly marked “outdoor.”
  2. Replace strands that show signs of damage like fraying, cracked sockets or unstable connections.
  3. Unplug interior and exterior lights if you go away for the holidays, just to be safe.
  4. Buy indoor and outdoor lights that come with a UL or ULC seal of approval, which means they meet industry safety standards.
  5. Keep cord connections off the ground, or add a waterproof cord protector overtop, to prevent water damage.
  6. Don’t connect more strands together than the package recommends.
  7. Be careful not to overload your extension cords and outlets.
  8. Never climb a ladder alone. Always get help to hang high exterior lights.

8What should I do if some bulbs aren’t lit?

Unless you’re using a really old light set, one burnt-out bulb in a string of incandescent lights won’t cause the whole strand to go dark. The reason? An invention called a shunt, which is essentially a back-up filament that prevents burnt-out bulbs from disrupting the flow of electricity to the rest of the strand.[6]

  • If one bulb burns out: Unplug the lights, then twist out the bulb and replace it with a spare.
  • If a section of a strand is dark: Look for signs of wear and tear like a broken plug or frayed wire. If a strand of lights has any wires poking through, throw it out.[7] Remove the bulbs and keep them in case you need a spare for other strands.
  • If the whole strand is out: Make sure it’s properly plugged in, then test the outlet with a strand you know is working. If the working strand still doesn’t light up, you can use a circuit tester to check if the outlet is receiving power. The light strand may have tripped a breaker.[8]

Christmas Lights for the Tree and House

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