DIY PATIO LIGHTS
LIGHTING AS UNIQUE AS YOUR OUTDOOR SPACE
Sometimes to light your favorite outdoor gathering spot with the uniqueness your yard deserves, you need a little more control than mass market outdoor string lighting gives you. You need the power to customize -- to run lights in asymmetrical configurations or to unusual places, with no empty sockets and no spare wire hanging around. But how?
Backyards and other outdoor living spaces tend to be very unique. Nature has a way of doing that. When it comes to using outdoor string lights in these spaces, accounting for that uniqueness is equally important. Making custom extension cords or custom string lights is far easier than you may realize and the end result is beautiful outdoor lighting perfectly contoured to your setting.
Bulk zip cord, vampire plugs and light sockets are your key to creating outdoor string lights as unique as your space. You decide how many lights you'll put up, where they'll go, which style, shape and color bulbs you'll use, and how to configure them. You'll get no wasted, leftover lights or wire -- just clean, beautiful light runs wherever you want them, and nowhere you don't.
Zip Cord Wire
Zip cord wire is about to become your new best friend because it can make custom extension cords and string lights quickly. It blends into its surroundings. It cuts to any length you need. Light sockets and vampire plugs attach to it. And of course, it connects all of your lights to that most precious commodity, the outdoor power outlet.
Zip cord, vampire plugs and sockets are designed for temporary use such as seasonal outdoor string lighting. Choosing the zip cord for your situation is simple and it boils down to three things:
Zip Cord Color
Choose a color for your zip cord that blends with your background. Green all but disappears when run along bushes or grass. Brown blends nicely with tree trunks or other wood-toned surfaces. For party canopies, white may be the perfect choice. And classic black works beautifully across open spaces against the night sky, or against many different architectural surfaces. Remember that you'll want to choose sockets and zip plugs to match the color of your wire.
SPT1 and SPT2 Zip Cord
The SPT rating of zip cord is a measure of the thickness of the wire insulation. SPT2 insulation is thicker than SPT1. Because of this, SPT2 wire is rated to carry up to 10 amps; SPT1 wire is rated to 7 amps. Choose which SPT wire you need based on how you plan to use it. For longer runs or heavy duty applications, SPT2 wire is your best choice. You never want your total power draw to exceed 80% of the amperage rating of your wire (see safety rules below). For guidance on how to calculate your power needs, use this handy guide. Then choose your wire accordingly.
Zip Cord Length
Before you start to make your own string lights, you'll want to plan your lighting configuration and measure how much zip cord you'll need. YardEnvy.com zip cord comes in 100-, 500- and 1,000-foot lengths.
Who's afraid of a little vampire plug?
Okay, so the thought of connecting electrical plugs to wire can seem a little intimidating at times. But it doesn't need to be. The truth is, you can easily attach "vampire plugs" to zip cord wire and open up your backyard or outdoor gathering space to all the custom lighting it deserves.
What's a vampire plug? You might have heard them called zip plugs. You might have heard them called Gilbert plugs. They're all names for the same thing. But open one up and you'll see where the vampire name comes from. Inside is a pair of "vampire teeth" that bite into the wire to connect to electrical current. Vampire plugs come in three types (male, female and inline), two insulation ratings (SPT1 or SPT2) and four colors. If you're using SPT1 zip cord, use SPT1 vampire plugs (and sockets) with it. If you're using SPT2 zip cord, use SPT2 vampire plugs and sockets.
DIY: HOW TO INSTALL VAMPIRE PLUGS
Vampire plugs feature a slide-off backing that lets you lay electrical cord inside. When you slide the backing on again, this presses the cord down onto the vampire teeth, creating the connection with the electrical current. Here's how to do it.
Male vampire plugs
The first thing you'll need to do is attach a male vampire plug to one end of your zip cord.
For female vampire plugs, the process is identical (except you'll attach it to the other end of your electrical cord). Simply use wire cutters to cut your electrical cord the length you want, then follow the steps above to attach the female vampire plug. Use a female vampire plug also to secure the end of a run, even if you don't plug anything into it. Never leave exposed wire at the end of a run.
Inline vampire plugs
For inline vampire plugs, the process is actually a touch easier.
String Light Sockets
Do-it-yourself light sockets allow you to place lights wherever you want them in your outdoor string light display, and nowhere that you don't. They come in three sizes (E12, E17 and E26), two insulation ratings (SPT1 and SPT2), and four colors.
E12 sockets are commonly used with C7 bulbs or bulbs with candelabra bases. E17 sockets are commonly used with C9 bulbs or bulbs with intermediate bases. E26 sockets are commonly used with household style bulbs that use the medium base. This flexibility both in bulb placement and bulb style is the reason string light sockets represent the pinnacle of customization in outdoor string lighting.
HOW TO INSTALL STRING LIGHT SOCKETS
The process for installing string light sockets is the same whether they're C7 or C9. They arrive in two pieces, a socket and a backing, which you connect to attach to your zip cord. Here's step-by-step how to do it.
Remember, anytime you're working with outdoor string lighting it's important to keep a few key safety tips in mind.