Draped along a wall or hung for a curtain effect, a few well-placed string lights can provide both practical benefits and style. And since you don’t need any pre-existing structures for these types of hanging deck lights, this project can be quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive. While it can be a simple process, you’ll still need to take a moment to plan, prepare, and learn a few of the finer points about how to string lights over a deck, determining how you want to hang or drape them, and making sure you have everything you need.

Materials You’ll Need

Even if you’re a total amateur, hanging outdoor lights on deck is a fairly easy project. With a little preparation, you can successfully hang string lights within an hour. The cost of materials can vary somewhat depending on type, quantity and brand, but as long as you don’t need to purchase any tools, the entire project should be in the neighborhood of $50-$80.

You’ll need:

  • Furring Stripboard (2” x 2” x 8’)
  • Galvanized Wood Screws
  • Cup Hooks (1-1/4″ or similar)
  • Pliers (Optional)
  • Electric Drill
  • Carpenter’s Level
  • Outdoor String Lights
  • Paint or Stain (Optional)

In order to determine how many string lights that you’ll need, take a moment to measure out the total distance you need to cover. Keep in mind stylistic choices when determining the length of strings needed. For instance, if you plan to pull your string lights taut across a specified area, you won’t need as long a string of lights as you would if you chose to drape your light strings. If you plan to opt for more of a draped effect, you’ll want to purchase extra length to give you the slack needed to achieve your desired look.

To determine how many stripboards and cup hooks you’ll need, plan the layout of your lighting in advance. Try to select furring strips that are designed to match or accent your deck. If you can’t find pre-matched strips, you can paint or stain them.

How to Hang String Lights On Your Deck

Hanging string lights on a deck typically is not a complicated process. However, things can become more difficult if you don’t follow each step in the correct order:

Determine how many posts are needed

Outside of deck railing, posts serve as the primary location for your hanging hooks. The number you need will depend on the amount of lights you want to run, and the direction you want to run them. The simplest setup can use as few as two poles. Depending on your lights and their location, you can typically anticipate needing a new pole every 7-10 feet.

Paint or stain the posts to match the deck

Learning how to hang lights on deck without running into any problems is mostly about preparation. If you’ve managed to find posts that already match the color and style of your deck, you can skip this step. Otherwise, you’ll want to stain or paint your posts before installing them, and give them a full day to dry before moving onto the next step. Staining posts after they’ve been installed on your deck is also an option, but it means you’ll need to be careful about protecting the rest of your deck from drips and runoff.

Dip Hooks In Liquid Plastic

The hooks you purchase will undoubtedly be electroplated galvanized metal. It’s not a good idea for the energized wires of the string lights to come into contact with metal. To keep this from happening, purchase a small can of liquid plastic and dip the hook end of the hooks into the plastic and allow them to dry and cure for 48 hours. Be careful not to allow any liquid plastic to get onto the hook threads.

Screw a hook into the top of each post

Drill a pilot hole into the top of your first post; the diameter of the hole should be smaller than the diameter of the hook you intend to install. Once the pilot hole is complete, manually twist the hook into position until you have it firmly started into the post. From here, you can either use pliers to manually turn the hook into the post, or an electric drill with an eye bolt looped over the hook. Be very careful that you don’t remove any of the liquid plastic coating you applied. If you mar the plastic coating, touch it up once the hooks are in place.

Attach the posts to the railing at the corners of the deck

Proper post placement is one of the key factors to successfully hanging string lights on your deck. When configuring your post placement, it’s important to note their relation to other elements on your deck that will carry lights. With placement decided, use a level to check each post before driving your screws, then drill at least one wood screw into the base. In addition to using a screw at the base of the post, connecting posts to railing at the edges of your deck provides a second point of anchorage, and an overall more secure build.

Hang the lights from each post

Starting closest to your power source, begin running your first string of lights along their intended route. If you’re not using posts and, instead, are hanging string lights from your deck railing, staples can be a viable alternative if you don’t want to connect cup hooks to the underside of your railing. Should you decide to secure the lights with staples, be extremely careful that the staples don’t cut or pinch the energized wires of the string lights.

It’s not always necessary to secure string lights to your hooks, but adding a few zip-ties can help to ensure you don’t have to worry about the wind. If you find yourself with excess lighting by the end, you can either allow it to trail downward in a stylish way, or it can be disabled.

Plug Lights into a GFCI

Be sure your string lights are plugged into a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) 120-volt outlet. This assumes the string lights you’re using are 120 volts AC. It will say this on the label of the lights.

You can sometimes get string lights that are powered by a battery that’s charged with a solar panel. This might be a green choice, but it’s possible the lights could go dark before your party ends. Be sure to check to see how long the fully charged battery will power the lights.