How Many Feet of String Lights Should You Buy?


When people decide they want to add some ambiance to their outdoor space, lights are one of the first options that come to mind. Patio lights come measured in the number of feet; therefore, you should be able to measure the amount of area you want to be covered. Once you have that, divide by the number of feet per strand of your desired light, right?

The length of lights you’ll need for your patio depends on distance to illuminate and the number of strands that can be attached together. Measure the distance of the run and add two to six feet to allow for a natural-looking arc. One bonus strand can act as a source for replacement bulbs.

The rest of this article will provide a few additional topics related to this question, including what you need to know about installing patio lights and what type of lights you should choose. 

How to Measure for Your String Lights

Grab a tape measure and get to measuring. 

If you need some ideas on different styles, search for “patio light images” and scroll through the results — or check out our covered patio lighting ideas. Once you have identified the best approach for your space, simply measure out the design on the ground. Be sure to add two to six feet for every run to give it a natural look. 

What Do You Need To Know About Installing Patio Lights?

You have accommodated for the natural-looking swing, but what else do you need to know when it comes to installing string lights? 

An important thing to remember about patio lights is that the manufacturer will dictate how many light strands can be attached. Also, depending on the distance of your light strands, they may need additional support.

How Many Strands Can I Attach?

First, let’s discuss the number of strands you can attach. 

Most patio lights are manufactured similarly to typical holiday string lights. Male and female ends are attached to lengthen the overall strand to allow it to reach from one point to the next. 

Typically, you can attach three to five strands of patio lights together, depending on the length of each strand. However, each manufacturer indicates on the box the number of strands that can be connected.

You can determine the max wattage for your circuit on your own. To do so: 

  • Go to your electrical box to see the amperage (likely 15 or 20 amps [1,800 or 2,400 watts]) for the circuit in question.
  • Do not exceed 80% of capacity. If you do, you run the risk of blowing a fuse or creating a potential fire hazard, e.g., assuming 120 volts:
    • 15 amp circuit: 15 amps * 120 watts/amp = 1,800 watts * 0.80 = 1,440 watts max wattage, or 
    • 20 amp circuit: 20 amps * 120 watts/amp = 2,400 watts * 0.80 = 1,920 watts max wattage.
  • Don’t run out and buy the maximum amount of bulbs to hit your max wattage. Remember that you likely have other household appliances on that same circuit. Reduce your max wattage associated with your lights to account for other items on that circuit. 
  • You never want to exceed 12 amps (1,440 watts) on any one outlet. So even if you have a 20 amp (2,400 watts) circuit that can handle more, keep your outlet in mind as well. 
  • Each box of patio lights should indicate the wattage per string. 
  • If you purchased the lights some time ago and no longer have the box, look for the small Underwriters Laboratory (UL) tag on each strand. The label should indicate the wattage per strand. 

Now that you know how many watts you can plug into each outlet and on the overall circuit, you can determine the maximum number of strands for that circuit.

If You Need More Lights

If you determine that you will need more strands of lights than you can run on one circuit after measuring and running the calculations, what do you do? 

Consider utilizing a second circuit. If one is not readily available, you could have an electrician add another circuit to the box. If that sounds like more hassle and expense than you anticipated, consider a different light configuration requiring fewer lights. 

Type “potential patio light configurations” into your search bar or take a look on Pinterest. You may end up with a configuration slightly different than you initially imagined. However, you will still have the ambiance, without the fire hazard! 

If You Need Additional Support

At this point, you’ve determined your ideal configuration. You have a sense of how many strands you need to “daisy chain” together. Adding strands together makes the connected strand heavier and adds stress to the connection points where they attach.

We already wrote about how to hang patio lights without nails, so if you’re worried about leaving blemishes on your outdoor structures you should check that article out.

Additionally, when hanging patio lights under trees, you can expect limbs and leaves to fall on them over time. Falling debris is likely to pull the strands apart at the point of connection or potentially even tear the lights mid-strand. How can you reduce the likelihood of this occurring? 

Most home goods stores and Amazon sell hanging kits like the Newleray String Light Hanging Kit (paid link). The wire in this kit supports the lights attached and will take the brunt of the impact of tree limbs and other falling items. Additionally, if you purchase a hanging kit you can install the wire first, which you can measure to ensure you know exactly how many strands you need. 

Now that you know how many lights you need and how to provide support, what type of lights should you choose? 

What Type of Patio Lights Should I Choose?

The supply of patio lights is seemingly endless. Which one should you choose? 

You will need to choose the type of bulb you want for your patio: LED, incandescent, solar-powered, or battery operated. Each type has pros and cons: external power source preference, your upfront budget, and how much you want to pay to operate the lights on an ongoing basis are key considerations. 

Let’s briefly review the pros and cons of each primary type. 

Light Emitting Diode (LED)

Pros 

  • Energy efficient 
  • Lower operating costs 
  • Long-lasting 
  • Limited fading over time 
  • Emits less heat 

Cons

  • More expensive for the upfront purchase 
  • Requires a power source (an outlet and potentially an extension cord) 

Incandescent

Pros

  • Budget-friendly for the upfront purchase cost 
  • Readily available 

Cons

  • Not energy efficient 
  • Higher operating costs 
  • Fragile 
  • Emits more heat 
  • Shorter lifespan 
  • Requires a power source (an outlet and potentially an extension cord) 

Solar-Powered

Pros

  • No operating costs 
  • Does not require the lights to be plugged into an outlet so that it may be more convenient depending upon the location 

Cons

  • Requires direct sunlight to charge, which may limit where you can use them 
  • Relatively high upfront cost 

Battery Operated

Pros

  • Does not require the lights to be plugged into an outlet so that it may be more convenience depending upon the location 

Cons

  • Requires regular maintenance to change the batteries 

Ultimately you will need to weigh the pros and cons of each type of light to determine which option is right for you. Before making any purchase, confirm their acceptability for outdoor use.

Conclusion

Purchasing patio lights initially seems like a straightforward endeavor. However, when it comes to your space, you need to keep in mind the additional length you’ll need for the hang and an extra strand for potential future use. 

Before purchasing lights, consider where they’ll hang and how many strands will need to be connected. If you need extra support, plan to get that in place first. 

Finally, to make your final selection, you’ll need to think through the type of lights. Crucial considerations are how far your space is from a power source and how much light the area receives. 

Sources

Captain

I'm Chuck (the Captain). I'm passionate about my outdoor space and love sharing my experiences with the world at large. I want Captain Patio to become the best place on the internet to find, share, and learn about all things patio-related. When I'm not keeping up my content schedule, I'm spending time with my wife and two kids (usually on my patio!).

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