{outdoor style} How to Hang Commercial Grade String Lights

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Raise your hand if you love the look of string lights... Yeah, me too!! Every time we would eat on a restaurant patio with the glow of string lights overhead or stroll through Denver's Larimer Square, I would dream about adding string lights to our backyard patio! 

But if we were going to do it, I wanted to do it right - with commercial grade light strands and guide wires. The installation process seemed very intimidating to us, and we weren't sure where to begin, so we finally enlisted the help of a knowledgeable family friend. As it turns out, it's really not that difficult - you just need to have the right materials!

Backyard Evolution String Lights

Before I jump into the how-to on string light installation, let me remind you where we started with this backyard series. In Part 1, I showed you what the backyard looked like when we moved in and showed you the plans; Part 2 covered the patio installation process; and last week, in Part 3, I talked about how we use the patio for entertaining and showed you all the colorful details.

Our backyard patio is situated between our kitchen and our detached garage, so I always envisioned lights strung back and forth between the house and the garage.


As I mentioned, we knew from the start that we wanted to use commercial grade light strands with guide wires, rather than the less inexpensive strings of lights available at most stores. One of the reasons for this is because we could custom order the exact length of lights we needed, but the other, more important reason is because commercial grade lights are better suited for permanent outdoor installation. 

So what is the difference between standard grade and commercial grade string lights? It's a common misconception that the difference is the type of light bulbs, but actually the distinction is in the wire and the sockets. According to PartyLights.com, commercial grade light strands are made from heavy duty wire with weather-proof sockets that seal around the bulb to keep water out. In additional to giving a more professional look, commercial grade string lights are recommended for permanent installations intended to be left up year-round and are suitable for hard-wiring.

By comparison, standard grade string lights can also be suitable for outdoor installation, but they typically do not last as long as commercial grade light strands, especially in locations with inclement weather. They are less expensive up front, but require replacement much more frequently if left up year round. Standard grade string lights are more appropriate for events and less permanent applications.


Several years ago, during the construction of the patio, we also had an outlet installed in the underside of the garage eave {above the light by the garage man door} in anticipation of adding string lights some day. Commercial grade string lights can be plugged in or hard wired, but by having the forethought to add this outlet years ago, it made our string light installation such a quick and easy job! The outlet is controlled by a light switch in the garage, allowing us to the turn the lights on and off without ever having to unplug them.

Electric Outlet in Garage Eaves

I honestly think that figuring out the layout for the lights and determining the lengths, wattage and socket spacing was harder than the actual installation of the lights. However, I fully admit that is probably a biased perspective because since I was in charge of the measuring and planning, but I didn't have to do any of the work of installing the lights.

Nonetheless, planning is obviously an important step, so let me show you the plan we came up with. As we went along, I learned that there is a lot more to it than just measuring for the length of your string lights, and it can get pretty confusing, so I'll try to sum up all of the things you need to consider before purchasing your string lights.

Because of the placement of our outlet in the garage eave, we actually used two separate strands of lights {as represented by the red and blue in the diagram below}. Each strand plugs in to the outlet on the garage eave, and then zig zags back and forth between the garage and the house. We measured the length of the garage, including the overhang of the roof line. Taking into account the location of the electrical outlet, we determined that 5.25 feet between points would allow us to have five evenly spaced connection points, as illustrated in the diagram below. {The gray in the diagram represents where the roof line extends beyond the garage building.}

We then identified four corresponding connection points on the house side of the patio - each evenly spaced between the connection points on the garage. Knowing the distance between the garage and the house, and given the 5.25 foot distance between connection points, we were able to calculate the length of each zig {or is it a zag?} at 230 inches. Who ever said you'd never need the Pythagorean Theorem in real life?!

Patio String Light Diagram

Once we calculated the length of light strands we needed, we started doing research on commercial grade string light pricing. We settled on purchasing a bulk reel from PartyLights.com because they not only had the best price, but had also been recommended to us by a friend. {This post is not sponsored by Party Lights, I am just sharing our experience.}

Since we were custom ordering the lights, in addition to knowing the length of light strands we needed {as determined by the diagram above}, we also had to decide on the distance between the sockets and the style and wattage of bulbs. These decisions are important not only for aesthetic purposes, but also because each strand of lights has a maximum run wattage {which is listed in the specs for each light strand}. 

In order to ensure that you stay within the maximum run wattage, you have to take into consideration the total length of the strand you need, the wattage of bulbs you want to use, and the distance between the sockets. In other words, the higher the wattage of bulb and the closer the sockets are placed, the shorter the strand must be; whereas with lower wattage bulbs and sockets spaced further apart, you can have a longer strand and still be with in the maximum run wattage. Installing two stands of lights was not only convenient due to the location of our outlet {as shown in the diagram above}, but also allowed us to avoid exceeding the max wattage of either strand.

Taking all of these things in to account, we settled on 11-watt "sign bulbs" and a socket spacing of 24 inches. This is the exact reel of lights that we ordered, and these are the exact bulbs. If you're doing the math, you might notice that this reel was much longer than we needed. This is because we were splitting it with my parents who were also installing string lights at their house; however, we could have ordered just the length we needed. 

Note that the reel we purchased DID NOT come with plugs. Since we were not hard wiring our lights, we had to add plugs to the ends of the strings, which we purchased at our local hardware store. 


The commercial grade lights we purchased are suitable for permanent installation, either affixed to a structure {such as a pergola} or hung with a guide wire. Since we were stringing our lights back and forth between our house and our garage, we used a guide wire.

Full disclosure - I had no part in the actual installation of these lights. A family friend, who had experience installing commercial string lights, helped Scott do the job. They did the work while I was out of town at a conference last summer. As a result, I only have one or two photos of the process that Scott sent to show me sneak peeks along the way, but I think that the photos of the completed installation, together with the explanations, will tell you everything you need to know.

How to Hang Patio String Lights

Materials Needed:
  • Commercial Grade String Lights from PartyLights.com {discussed above}
  • 1/16" Wire Rope
  • 1/16" Wire Rope Clamps
  • Eye to Eye Turnbuckle
  • Screw Hooks
  • Zip Ties
  • Outdoor rated plugs
Since a picture is worth a thousand words...

commercial grade outdoor string light installation guide

Using the document I created showing the layout of the lights, the guys installed 5 screw hooks in the eave of the garage - one right by the outlet, and each other 5.25 feet apart. Then they installed four screw hooks in a small overhang on the house side. 

Patio String Light Installation Diagram

They then placed eye to eye turnbuckles on each screw hook, and ran a length of wire rope between each turnbuckle {spanning the distance from house to garage}, and then secured each guide wire with a wire clamp. Once the wire rope was strung between the house and garage, the guys were able to adjust the screws in the turnbuckle to control the amount of swag in each guide wire {screwing the eye hooks further into the turnbuckle pulls the guide wire more taut}.

Patio String Light installation illustration

The screw hooks at each far end of the garage have just one eye to eye turnbuckle {because this is where the string lights end}. All of the other screw hook has two turnbuckles on it, so the guys zip tied the two turnbuckles together to secure the position of the each guide wire.

Once all of the guide wires were in place, the guys began attaching the light strands to the guide wires using zip ties at the location of each socket, as well as between each socket.

Using zip ties to secure string lights

String lights attached to guide wire

Here's what the completed string light installation looks like on the house side of our back patio:

String lights attached to house

And here's what it looks like where a strand ends and is capped off near the corner of the garage:

String light termination point

The lights look great hanging above the patio during the day...

String lights above patio during the day

String lights above the patio during the day

...but, of course, it's when the sun goes down that the string lights become the stars of the show! I love watching the way the glow of the light changes after after the sun has set as the sky becomes deeper and deeper shades of blue. 

String lights above the patio at dusk

String lights above patio at dusk

We swapped out the regular light switch inside the garage for a dimmer switch, allowing us to control the amount of light that we get from the string lights at night. When not dimmed, the lights make the backyard quite bright {but not too bright} - perfect for entertaining or letting the kids play at night. But for a quieter backyard dinner, or when relaxing on the outdoor couch, we enjoy being able to dim the lights a bit for more ambiance.

How to install commercial grade patio string lights with guidewires

If you decide you want to use a dimmer, just make sure that you buy a dimmer that can handle the wattage load of your lights. Most dimmer switches can only handle 600 watts of power, which was insufficient for the wattage and number of bulbs we had. We burned out a regular dimmer before realizing this, and then replaced it with a 1000-watt dimmer. If your strand rates at higher than 1,000 watts, you may be unable to use a dimmer with your string lights, because we were told that no one makes dimmer rated for wattage above 1,000 {though you should confirm this for yourself}.

The string lights have been up in the backyard for just over a year now, and I only wish we had installed them sooner! They are such a stylish addition to our yard, and make it easier to enjoy our patio at night. 

The guide wires and lights held up great through the Colorado winter, including a couple of major snow storms. However, earlier this summer we had a massive thunderstorm that produced very large hail, and after the storm passed we went outside to find that about 20 or so of our bulbs had been shattered by the hail. If you look closely at the photo below, you can see that the glass is gone on just about every other bulb.

String lights broken by hail

I didn't notice the broken bulbs at first, until I started finding glass on the ground. Fortunately, the kids had not yet been back outside. We already had extra bulbs on hand, so replacing them wasn't an issue, but cleaning up all the tiny shards of thin glass was quite a job! Not only was there glass all over the cement pavers, we also found glass all over our table, chairs and couch, in the ground cover, and in the grass. So a word of warning - after a hail storm, be sure to check for any broken bulbs before letting kids run around in the backyard!

Hopefully I explained the installation process clearly enough to get you on the right track, but don't hesitate to leave me a message or email me if you have further questions! 

Installing commercial grade patio string lights



  1. I love your string lights! Is there any chance that you are in the Denver area? I am too! I would love to pay your friend to install lights for us. (Or maybe he knows someone that does installation?) I am a DIY-er but hanging something that could electrocute me makes me a little cringy!!

    1. Sorry for my delayed response! I am in Denver! I would be happy to ask our family friend if he is interested in doing another string light installation, or if he can recommend someone else. Are you looking to do it this fall, or wait for spring?

  2. Me too!! I live north of Denver but I can't find time to do all the projects I see on Pinterest! I would gladly pay your friend to hang the lights!

    1. I totally get that! I would be happy to ask our family friend if he is interested in doing more string light installs, or if he can recommend someone else! I'll let you know when I hear back from him!

  3. This is a great post about string light, Angela.
    Thank for share with us ! I had shared your post on my Facebook group

  4. I'm curious about the wires (?) that are attached to the turnbuckles with some kind of clamp. How are they attached to the strand of lights? And is their purpose to provide strain-relief or to protect the strands from rubbing on hooks?

    1. I am not sure if I understand your question correctly, but I will try to answer. Please let me know if I am not answering the question you're trying to ask. The strands of lights are attached to the guide wires with zip ties (as explained above). We used guide wires, rather than just stringing the strands of lights back-and-forth by themselves, because these are commercial grade string lights intended for "permanent" installation and the lights hang year around including under the weight of snow during the winter. If you were talking about where the two turnbuckles come together, we used the zip ties to hold the turnbuckles together, thereby securing the position of each guidewire. All of this is explained in much more detail above under the installation instructions.

  5. This may be a dumb question but would a heavy duty staple gun work to hang up the lights as well?

    1. That would probably work fine for a temporary installation for a party or a short period of time, but wouldn't be a good solution for a permanent installation of commercial grade lights with guidewires (which is what I was after).

  6. Ps, seen your blog on Pinterest! Your yard is super cute!

  7. Great post! Would your friend be willing to help me out . Happy to pay to do so? I'm in Denver and pregnant looking to have it done this month? Thanks!

    1. I am happy to ask him. Send me an email at blueistyleblog@gmail.com so that I can reply with his contact info if he is interested.

  8. Great Post! Thanks for sharing. I'm in Denver and my wife is pregnant and I would love to have this done this month ? Would be happy to pay to have some help ! We have almost the same layout between the garage and house. Please help!.

  9. This is a great post! I am putting up acoustic treatment in my home studio. I need to suspend some acoustic panels from the ceiling, BUT I have those deadly asbestos popcorn ceilings and disturbing the ceiling is a no-no. So I figured I'd run a wire rope across the room from wall to wall and hang the panels from their. I didn't really know how to translate that bright idea into reality, but here it is in your post. Thanks!

  10. A well planned project! All this advice about "permanent installation" and then using zip ties that will last (2)years max.

    1. I appreciate your concern, but in fact the particular zip ties that we selected are rated for a 10 year life when used outdoors exposed to both UV rays and snow. There are certainly different types of zip ties, intended for different uses and rated for different periods of time. I should add a note about that to the post, so thank you for pointing that out. However, when I reference "permanent installation" I don't intend to suggest that anything lasts forever. I recognize that at some point in time we may need to replace the zip ties (or some other part of the installation). Permanent installation is the term commonly used to refer to string lights that are left up year round, as distinguished from installation methods or light/socket types that are put up in the spring and taken down before winter. When we eventually see that any of the zip ties are beginning to fail, we will, at that time, replace all of them. Unless every zip tie were to fail simultaneously, the lights won't come crashing down, so we shouldn't have any problems even if the zip ties were to not live up to their estimated life.

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  12. Elizabeth in Santa CruzNovember 20, 2016 at 3:56 PM

    Wow -- I really appreciate the photos and details of this post. We followed it almost to the letter and put our string lights up today. Thank you!

  13. Thank you for this excellent post! I just put in my string lights today and you have the best guide online, hands down. The lights look amazing and I'm glad I followed all your advice despite the 5hour+ project.

  14. Awesome post, and very helpful. What size turnbuckles and hook screws did you use?

  15. This was an awesome post, and very helpful. We are planning on putting lights between trees out by our firepit. What size turnbuckles and eye hooks did you use?

  16. Outstanding report of how the project was done! I'm curious, I live in Houston and we have an occasional rather nasty storm that comes by (hurricane) and I'd like to be able to take the lights down prior to. Looking at the screw hooks, would you say that the weight of the run of lights and cable going to each hook isn't so great that the turnbuckles can be lifted off either as is or turning the screw hooks 180 degrees to face inward? I'm guessing the greater the swag, the easier this might be accomplished.

  17. Awesome post - never knew about commercial lighting options for outdoor use. Will look into that as we plan to rejuvenate our patio this spring. Thanks for sharing and thank you so much for the installation tips!!!!! The lights look great!


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