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Christmas Lights Buying Guide

There are many types of Christmas lights to choose from when designing an indoor or outdoor lighting display. Use this guide to determine what kind of lights will best suit your decorating plans.

A snow-covered, white brick home decorated with a variety of Christmas lights, including LED Christmas lights, white Christmas lights, and soft white outdoor Christmas lights.

Where to Start

When trying to decide which type of Christmas string lights to buy, begin by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do I need incandescent or LED Christmas lights?
  • What bulb shape or style best suits my design requirements?
  • How many strands will it take to cover the area?
  • Do I want all-white, colored or multicolored Christmas lights?
  • What are my energy requirements?

 

Shop Christmas Lights

Types of Christmas Lights: LED and Incandescent

Although both LED and incandescent string lights come in a variety of colors and bulb shapes, there are a few basic differences between them.

 

Incandescent lights:

  • Often cost less than LEDs
  • Have a warm glow

 

Shop Incandescent Christmas Lights

 

 

LED (light-emitting diode) lights:

  • Use less energy than incandescent bulbs
  • Are longer lasting – some LEDs are rated up to 100,000 hours
  • Burn at a lower temperature
  • Come in both warm- and cool-glow varieties

 

Shop LED Christmas Lights

Mini String Lights

White Christmas lights.

Mini string lights have smaller bulbs and have remained popular for the past few decades.

Wide Angle LED Mini Lights

Blue Christmas lights.

Wide angle LED mini lights have low-profile, conical-shaped bulbs that give off more light than some varieties and blend seamlessly into their surroundings when not in use.

Large Bulb Lights

Large bulb Christmas tree lights.

Large bulb lights (also known as C5, C7, C9 and G40) create visual impact and lend a retro feel.

Battery-Operated Lights

Battery operated Christmas lights.

Battery-operated lights are great for displays that aren't near a power source or are located where cords could be unsafe.

Animated and Color-Changing Lights

Color changing Christmas lights.

Animated and color-changing lights add eye-catching action to your holiday display.

Net Lights

Colored net Christmas tree lights.

Net lights are already strung together into forms, making it easy to get a uniform look when you drape them across shrubs or structures.

Icicle Lights

Icicle-shaped outdoor Christmas lights.

Icicle lights give your home a whimsical snow-covered appearance. For more creative decorating ideas, see Holiday Decorations for Your Entryway.

LED Rope Lights

Rope-shaped LED Christmas lights.

LED rope lights are ideal for outlining doorways, windows and walkways, and for creating intricate shapes and designs.

LED Light Projectors

Red LED light projector

LED light projectors require no installation and are a timesaving alternative to traditional string lights. Simply plug them into an outlet and point them anywhere — indoor Christmas trees, outdoor trees or dwellings — and instantly project vibrant colors or patterns.

How Many Strands of Lights Will It Take to Cover the Area?

Although personal preference is the ultimate deciding factor, here are a few basic considerations:

  • Bulb spacing. Strands of Christmas lights with more space between bulbs are ideal for wrapping slender posts and tree branches. Strands with less space between bulbs are typically best for draping loosely around indoor trees or for lining roofs or overhangs.
  • String length. Two strands with the same number of lights will have different string lengths if their bulb spacing is not identical.

 

Outdoor Trees:

General rule: For heavy lighting, plan for around 200 mini Christmas tree lights per vertical foot-and-a-half of tree. If you prefer medium lighting, 100 mini lights per foot should be enough.

Other tips:

  • Slender trees will require the fewest number of lights.
  • Dense evergreen trees like pines, firs and spruces may require more lights. Consider using larger-size bulbs for these.
  • By wrapping bushes and shrubs with net or icicle lights, you’ll cover a greater area with fewer strands--and less work.
  • When covering tree branches, use lights with 6-8 inches of spacing between bulbs so that you can wrap wires tightly.

 

Shop Outdoor Christmas Lights

See Tips for Hanging Outdoor Christmas Lights

See Decorate Outdoors for the Holidays 

 

Indoor Christmas Trees:

General rule: Plan for approximately 100 mini Christmas tree lights per vertical foot-and-a-half of tree.

Other tips:

  • Strands with a 4-inch bulb spacing will light more area at a lower cost.
  • Strands with a 6- to 8-inch bulb spacing are best for tightly wrapping branches.

 

For more tips, see Decorate a Christmas Tree.

Good to Know

Consider buying extra Christmas lights in case you need more than you thought, or to use as replacements. For tips on repairing lights, see Fix Christmas Tree Lights.

Choosing the Right Color

Some individuals have a strong personal preference for either colored or white Christmas lights, but here are a few considerations:

  • White Christmas lights lend a timeless look, while colored lights are fun and festive — plus, you can coordinate them to create complex designs.
  • Not all white LED lights are the same hue—some give off a warm yellow glow while others have a bluer tint.
  • You can color block large areas with single-colored strands for a dramatic effect.
  • Get children involved by allowing them to cover their own assigned area with a color scheme of their choice.

 

Shop White Christmas Lights

Shop Colored Christmas Lights

Conserve Energy

Consider the following tricks to save on your energy bill during the holidays:

  • Use automatic timers to turn your lighting displays off and on.
  • Choose LED Christmas lights over incandescent lights, especially when covering large areas.
  • Use extension cords in hidden areas to lengthen strands. See Power Cord Safety Tips.
Good to Know

Christmas lights and extension cords come in different amperages. Always pair products of equal amp capacities.