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Outside Christmas Lights: Outdoor Decorating Tips, Themes and Types of Lights

Updated on November 28, 2010

In this day and age, there are endless choices when shopping for outside Christmas lights. It's mind boggling what you can do these days with relative ease. Of course, you can go all out or keep it simple, but your first task is creating a plan and/or theme. In years past, our outside Christmas lights have been fairly minimalistic, but we've since purchased some newer lights and lighted décor that's spruced up our holiday yard.

First Things First- Have a Succinct Plan

First of all, take an honest look at your yard from the street. If you have a small yard, you may very well be better off going with more scant decorations, unless you really admire that Griswold's Christmas look! Consider where your outlets are and how many you have to work with. Consider the style of your house, the shape, landscape and proximity to the road when considering what type of outdoor Christmas lights to purchase. Choosing solar powered lights if your house is set far from the street may not be the best option since they may not emit a bright enough light. You may also want to consider the type of neighborhood in which you reside, for example going extremely modern in an older, more established neighborhood might look a bit out of place. However, the old vintage lights hung on older, well-established homes definitely add to the charm without looking out of place.

Before you traipse off to buy your strings of lights, take accurate measurements. Over-buying is obviously undesirable, but under-buying can be can be catastrophic, especially when the supply at stores runs out. Don't forget any bushes, trees or posts you'd like to light. Remember to measure all windows and doors as well. You will need at least a 30 foot measuring tape and an extra set of hands. You will want to tag on about 20 to 30 extra feet for corners, uneven surfaces and such. Look for strings that plug into each other or you'll turn a fun project into a nightmare.

Outside Christmas lights can be simple, but still stunning.
Outside Christmas lights can be simple, but still stunning. | Source
All blue Christmas lights have a stunning effect.
All blue Christmas lights have a stunning effect. | Source
These vintage lights coupled with a simple red/green color scheme are perfect for this bungalow.
These vintage lights coupled with a simple red/green color scheme are perfect for this bungalow. | Source

Deciding on a Theme or Look

Keep it Simple

Some of my favorite holiday yards utilize the “less is more” mantra. There's a lot to be said for simple, but tasteful elegance, using clear lights only is one way to achieve this look. Coupling this décor with a simple pre-lit wreath or adding some clear lights to your preexisting wreath will enhance the look while adding a bit of flair. If you prefer some color, you can, of course, decorate in all green, all blue, all red, or whatever color gives you that Christmas feel you enjoy. The idea here is simplicity and uniformity. Don't mish-mash too many styles of bulbs or your house will look plain chaotic and messy!

Lawn lights are another simple, but unique option. Basically they are lights attached to string that are spaced around 10 feet apart and then staked into your lawn. They are VERY easy to set up, you can literally do it in about 15 minutes and they only require one outlet. Similarly, you could opt to light up your walkways or driveway. These are perfect options for people who are unable (or unwilling) to climb up on high ladders to light up their homes.

If you want to take it up a notch, you can choose lights that twinkle, chase, or blink. Of course, many Christmas lights on the market today have different programs for a variety of lighting effects.

Create a Themed Christmas Yard

There's no end to the variety of pre-lit yard art sculptures available to represent Christmas iconography. You may want to begin with one piece upon which to build your theme. Perhaps you want to build a winter wonderland theme. Starting with a snowflake, sled or snowman sculpture is a great central piece.

Greenery is another very traditional Christmas decoration and can look stunning with minimal effort. Having a few strategically placed pre-lit wreaths, outdoor planted trees and garlands can make for a spectacular Christmas scene.

Christmas LED lights come in many different sizes and varieties.
Christmas LED lights come in many different sizes and varieties. | Source

Types of Outdoor Christmas Lights

First, make absolutely certain the Christmas lights you choose are certified for outdoor use. There are a plethora of different kinds of outside Christmas lights from which to choose. Among them are:

  • LED
  • Solar Powered
  • String Lights ( incandescent, LED and solar-powered)
  • Net Lights or Light Wraps (incandescent, LED and solar-powered)
  • Icicle Lights (incandescent, LED and solar-powered)
  • Incandescent Lights
  • Mini Lights, also called Fairy Lights (incandescent, LED and solar-powered)
  • Christmas Rope Lights (incandescent, LED and solar-powered)
  • C5 (medium-sized, come in incandescent and LED)
  • C7 (large 2 inch traditional lights that come in both incandescent and LED)
  • C9 (largest 3 inch traditional lights that come in both incandescent and LED)

Obviously, there are a lot of factors to consider when choosing the lights that will work the best for you. Solar powered lights aren't going to be the best choice for those who live in particularly cloudy winter weather. They are just not going to get enough solar power to charge them up.  If you live in a consistently sunny place, solar Christmas lights are a fantastic option.  Obviously, they are completely free once you purchase them!

LED lights are a fantastic option for those dreaming of a “green Christmas” and who are willing to invest a tiny bit more to save on electricity bills over the long haul. Some people have the misconception that LED lights just don't get very bright. However, they've been dramatically improved over recent years and you will have a hard time distinguishing them from their incandescent counterparts. Not only will they save you a pretty penny on your electricity bill while being simultaneously earth-friendly, but they will last significantly longer. They will save you roughly $10 for every 300 hours and last significantly longer than incandescents. A conventional bulb will only last 1,000 to 2,000 hours compared to somewhere around 50, 000 to 100,000 hours for an LED. They also cut down on fire risk since they don't have a filament and therefore don't get hot.

Christmas rope lights have small, ½ watt micro bulbs spaced about an inch apart inside a plastic tube. The incandescent rope lights are rated for about 25,000 hours of use. Since the bulbs are tightly bound inside the PVC resin tube, they are not intended to be replaced. So, you can get many years of use from rope lights. They only get slightly warm to the touch since they're protected inside the tubing, thereby reducing the risk of fire. They also come with solar-powered and LED lights. Rope lights have their applications, however they also have some drawbacks. Although they are very easy to hang, they aren't malleable and since plastic has somewhat of a “memory” they can get kinks, bends and stick in a coiled up orientation. In other words, they're quite difficult to straighten out and can look a bit disheveled on straight roof-lines, windows or doorways.


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  • Bettersnowman profile image

    Bettersnowman 6 years ago

    Nice article. Good job covering the styles of lights. Don't forget that there are also solar powered lights, which you did mention, that can be used in areas where you don't want to run extension cords.

  • lindsays5624 profile image

    lindsays5624 7 years ago

    I think the LED Xmas tree lights are far cooler and should reduce fir risk