Enchanting Outdoor Lighting
If you've visited a mass retail store any time during the warmer months, you may have noticed a minimal and standardized selection of patio light options, usually with lengths only up to 25 feet -- which is not long enough for most outdoor applications. And, very few bulb size, shape and color options. This "one-style fits all" lighting selection is fine for some but it doesn't really address that we all have different outdoor space configurations. Different lighting style preferences. Different budgets. Different needs.
Patio string light lengths, light colors, bulb shapes, bulb sizes and bulb finishes all make a difference. To help you create the outdoor scene of your dreams, complete with lighting that fits your individual style, we've come up with our most helpful tips and tricks for selecting patio bulbs and light strings, as well as mistakes to avoid before you buy.
Get the right length string lights
Measuring Tips - Part of what makes patio lights unique is the natural swag or arc that is created when you hang them. While beautiful, this natural curve is often the cause of strings that don't quite reach despite exact measurements being taken. To make sure you have enough length to cover your entire space, swag included, you'll want to measure the area in which you plan to hang your lights and then buy light strings that are 2 to 6 feet longer than your linear measurement. If you end up with a little more string length than you need you can always shorten it by doubling it up on the ends.
Hanging Patio Light Patterns - Some popular light hanging patterns include the zig zag, the X, the scallop and the square. Different spaces may lend themselves to different patterns so consider the look you'd like to achieve. First, determine if you want your patio lights to hang taut or if you'd rather they create a sweeping effect across your space. Next, choose a pattern and measure the total linear feet you need accordingly. Then add a few feet to the measurement to account for a swag, if you want one.
String Lights on Stakes - Use shepherds hooks to hang lights along a path, or create perfect spacing with walkway light stakes. When planning the length of lights to use, you'll want to estimate for the natural dip that will occur between stakes.
Choose The Best Light Bulbs
Patio light bulbs are available in a variety of shapes and sizes to complement any space or decorative style. The image above illustrates the type of bulbs available as well as the bulb base size. Bulb base size is important to know in order to match the bulbs you choose with the appropriate string socket size. For example, bulbs with E12 candelabra bases will need to be paired with a light string that has E12 sockets.
Globe light bulbs are the most common choice in outdoor string lights and iconic for their round shape. Globe lights range from small G30 (30mm) bulbs, perfect for cozy spaces to larger, G50 (50mm) bulbs which are ideal for larger areas where greater size and coverage is needed.
Edison light bulb shapes come in many varieties but the S11 and S14 feature more elongated bulbs, which are very popular because of their unique look. A15 and A19 bulbs are also a popular choice because they are the universal light bulb look.
C Bulbs are typically associated with Christmas lights and are routinely seen right side up. However, you can just as easily turn them upside down and achieve the same patio string light look. Because the shape of C7 and C9 bulbs is more elongated like a candle tip, it creates a more slender and long light halo.
Many decorative LED bulbs are made with extremely durable acrylic, which means if you drop them, the lens won't break like glass bulbs that will shatter immediately. Better durability, longer lasting and up to 90% less energy usage than incandescent bulbs are the primary reasons to go this direction. Additionally, if your project requires a long run of bulbs, going LED means less time configuring power supply needs, calculating max wattage and worrying about blowing fuses.
Bulb Finishes Matter
Glass vs. Acrylic
The choice to go with glass or acrylic patio bulbs often comes down to durability, budget and display. Glass bulbs are generally less expensive than their acrylic counterparts which can be very important when factoring budget into your outdoor lighting equation. Although initially more expensive, acrylic bulbs are shatterproof and the colors are infused into the material instead of being painted on, so they won't fade, chip or crack. Additionally, because acrylic bulbs are also LED, they stay cool to the touch, providing convenience and peace of mind. While budget and durability weigh heavily in the decision to go glass or acrylic, the choice is also often one of personal preference regarding display. Glass bulbs are iconic in the patio lighting world, so it is understandable why many people are drawn to their classic beauty, whereas others love the vivid colors and modern designs found in LED bulbs.
Clear, Faceted, Satin and Pearl
Clear bulbs allow the light to shine its brightest while also showing off the filament or interior bulb design. This is classic finish, perfect for any space and especially popular in larger outdoor applications.
Faceted bulbs cast a stunning light pattern when hung near or against solid surfaces, adding an interesting design element to your light display.
Satin and Pearl bulbs diffuse the light to create a soft, inviting glow, and they look like decorative accents during the day, adding to their appeal.
Get the Appropriate String Light
SPT2 Wire For Longer Runs - You might notice the distinctions of SPT1 and SPT2 made between string light wires. This notation indicates wire insulation which is an important consideration, especially when planning longer term lighting installations. SPT1 wire is the standard for moderate to normal light usage, while thicker SPT2 wire insulation supports higher wattage bulbs and provides better protection against the elements, particularly in regions with extreme weather patterns and temperatures.
Patio Light Tips & Secrets
Keep wattage in mind when selecting your patio light bulbs, especially for larger spaces and longer runs. Most household circuits are 15 or 20 amps which can support between 1,800-2,400 watts. It is recommended that you stay within 80% of the total wattage capacity of any circuit to avoid tripped breakers. With this in mind, try to choose low wattage bulbs for longer light runs, or consider switching to LED lights which use a tiny fraction of the wattage needed for incandescent bulbs.
Earlier we mentioned globe lights as the classic and iconic choice for patio lighting, and while this is true, there is a little known lighting option that can accommodate all of your year round lighting needs including holiday and summer party lighting. Interested? The secret to lighting that works for holidays including Christmas and Halloween, Patio Lighting, Walkway Lighting and more is C9 LED bulbs! If budget, timing and versatility are priorities for you, the C9 is the perfect in-between bulb type for all these uses.
Classic clear and white patio lights are a gorgeous addition to any backyard, however some outdoor spaces demand a more eclectic light display. If this sounds like your style, we have a few unique outdoor lighting ideas we think you might like! Try mixing different types of bulbs, such as G50 faceted LED globe lights with C9 faceted LED lights on the same string. Just make sure the base sizes for each match your socket sizes! You can also experiment with mixing colors and finishes. Opaque, satin or pearl finish bulbs add interest to outdoor lighting in the daytime when paired with clear transparent bulbs, while red opaque, clear transparent and blue opaque globe lights create an exciting patriotic lighting design!