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Our outdoor string lights

There's no question that warmly lit string lights add something magical to any outdoor space. They seem to emanate the promise of a good times among good friends enjoying summer food & drink. Although various versions of these string lights are widely available with a "plug and play" set-up, I often get a ton of questions on where we got everything and how to install. So here are the details followed by some shop-able finds that I love, inspired by these warmly lit mid-summer nights.

The string lights themselves come in different lengths. Often you will find them with either (roughly) two or three feet of space in between each light. Ours are the two-foot option, providing a higher amount of lights per string. These are also "in-line," meaning, the sockets are right up in the run of electrical cord, rather than suspended from it. (see images).

Over time, if you hang them from one point to another over a long span, these cords can sag. You also want to avoid pulling on them too hard to take out or lessen any swagging, so it is best to attach them to braided, stainless-steel wiring. It is also important that this wiring be vinyl coated, which will keep wind and other movement from wearing down the insulation of the electrical cords. The suspended version has a hole for this kind of support wiring, ours did not, so we zip-tied the string lights to the braided wiring one socket at a time, with a small black zip tie on each side of the socket.

The process of attaching the string lights to the steel wire was to get one end of the steel wire secured to the house (more on that below) and then let it alongside the string lights, which were installed and left hanging by our electrician (more on that below as well).

We first added a "thimble" to the end of the steel wire (to form a loop) using the 1/16" steel "U' bolts that came with it. (they come as a set). The thimble has a groove around the outside edge and you simply wrap the wire around that and then add the "u" bolts right where the wire had doubled back and met itself again, then add two more. Using a carbiner clip, we then attached the thimble loop end of the steel wire to a secure tie-down anchor that we affixed to the outer wall of the house.

We used a heavy duty tie-down anchor and secured it to the outside of our house with 3" lag bolts, making sure that they were screwing solidly into a wooden support stud. [To be more clear, at certain points, the outer "skin" of a house (siding, stucco, wood, etc) will have voids beneath them, so just screwing into the wall isn't enough, there needs to be something solid to make the anchor secure. If you have any doubts, hire a good handyman (with references) to do this.]

As you are affixing the string lights to the braided wire, you can also add the light bulbs. If they are not shatter resistant, be careful. Also, an important aesthetic note on light bulbs. 1) Get LED/low voltage - they only use about 1W each. 2) Be sure to get them at 2200K color temperature and dimmable. Any higher color temperature will look cold and you also want to be able to control the lighting level depending upon your situation.

Before any of the above, we hired a licensed electrician (that we have used for a long time) to remove the power plugs from the end of the string lights so they could be pulled through the outer wall into the attic space (the plugs were then re-attached). They also installed a GFI power outlet where we could plug in a remote dimmer/timer, to which the string lights would be connected. The dimmer/timer is great because you can set it to go on in relation to the local sunset time, to go off at a certain time later and you can also of course dim the string lights as needed. On/Off and dimming can also be controlled with Alexa or other smart home controllers like google assistant.

The last step would be to carefully stretch the lights across to a second anchor point and then (if needed) cut and terminate the end of the light strings if they're too long. We have two runs, so a "V" is formed from the house running to each point. We also used lighter duty tie-down anchors at each outside end... one on our pergola (which is sturdy) and the other on our cabana (which is also solidly built). You can of course install some kind of poles if needed. Just be sure you do that correctly so the poles are very secure into the ground. (Again... maybe a handyman?).

VERY IMPORTANT: USE A LICENSED ELECTRICIAN to install to a power source (unless you're just plugging into an existing outlet of course) and to do the shortening of the string lights if that is needed. They'll use an outdoor, waterproof cap and ensure that it will be okay exposed to the elements.

Now that your yard is vibin'

here are some great picks to complete

a beautiful summer night!

Each image links to where to buy...


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