1. The Measurement Most Forget?

You measure 50 feet from point A to point B. You buy a great set of patio lights that are also 50 feet long. And then... they don’t reach. Bummer. What went wrong? Most people measure distance in a straight line, which makes sense. But what they forget about is considering the one thing that makes patio string lights unique: the natural swag or arc of the string. The good news is that you don’t need complex math to solve this problem. Simply buy string lights that are 2 to 6 feet longer than your linear measurement to create the swag of your choice. It’s always better to have more string length than you need because you can always shorten it by doubling it up on the ends.


three main type of bulbs

There are three main types of bulb base sizes used for string lights. Make sure you know which kind you need to match your sockets.

2. Make Sure Your Bulbs Fit Your Sockets

There are dozens of light bulb types, shapes, colors and finishes. There are also three main bulb socket bases which are commonly confused. Make sure that your stringer and your bulbs are compatible. You can learn more about this in the chapter titled: Get the Right Bulb.

3. Don’t Ruin Your New Set of Lights!

That’s 2,000 watts plugged into the wall, which exceeds the capacity for most standard stringers and household sockets. Let’s assume that the most amazing vintage bulb has found you and you immediately fall in love with it. It’s a work of art. It’s also 40 watts per bulb and you need 50 of these bulbs for your new patio light stringer. One problem: your fuses blow every time you plug the lights in or worse, your stringer can’t handle the load.

You can rewire your house to accommodate this. (fun for a different weekend) Or, you can plan to buy strings and bulbs that are meant to work within their electrical safety limits.

capacity of your plug outlet are designed to handle the electrical load of your bulbs
Always check to make sure that the capacity of your stringer and the capacity of your plug outlet are designed to handle the electrical load of your bulbs, especially if you plan to use incandescent bulbs.

4. Strong Hanging Hardware Is Your Friend

Imagine an invisible tug-of-war. Most patio string light configurations hang from two opposing points and both of these points are pulling against one another. If you are hanging your lights from a solid object consider heavy duty hanging hardware to make sure your lights stay up. If you are not mounting your lights to an existing object but rather are using a pole or multiple poles, make sure the pole(s) are anchored sufficiently to handle the natural tension of the light string.

Fastners are you friend


Your string ends pull against each other. Anchor them well.

Space matters

Oh, Yes!

Space Matters.

5. Get the Patterns Like the Pros

Outfitting an apartment or condo balcony with string lights is much different than running string lights across a backyard, a patio or urban rooftop. The pattern you choose is on display as much as the lights and there are specific hanging tips that will save you time and keep your lights looking good.

Patio String Light Patterns

  • The V
  • The X
  • The Zig Zag W
  • The Scalloped Square
  • The Horizon Point
  • The Tent Point

Learn about pattern hanging tips in Chapter 2.