If outdoor Christmas lights didn’t need power, hanging them would be so much easier. The reality is, though, Christmas lights need power. Hanging them outdoors presents some of the same and some different challenges that indoor lights have.
The main concerns when powering Christmas lights outdoors are power source, wires, controls, and weather. If you can master these, then your lighting experience will go well. In this article, I’m going to do a deep dive into all these subjects.
There is only one type of power outdoor Christmas lights use; electricity. Without electricity you can’t power your lights. There are a few different ways you can provide electricity to your lights. You can use an outlet on your house, batteries, a generator, and solar panels.
You can’t use just any electricity outlet from your house to power your Christmas lights. You have to use a GFCI electrical outlet. A GFCI outlet is a special electrical outlet for damp areas. It doesn’t guarantee you won’t get shocked in damp areas, but it helps to reduce the risk.
GFCI outlets basically have a breaker built into them. If the outlet detects a short, it cuts off electricity to the circuit which includes the wires plugged into it. Because damp areas are more prone to shorting, GFCI outlets help protect anyone who may be in contact with the wire, water, or any other conductor connected to it.
Your GFCI outlet must be under an eave of your house. Having an outlet exposed in the open is very dangerous.
You can buy battery operated Christmas lights from Amazon or most hardware stores. They usually run off of AA batteries. Most battery operated strands are around 50 to 120 lights. To use these outdoors, you need to get units with waterproof lights and battery boxes.
If you want to power you existing 120V lights with batteries, you can convert a 12V battery from DC to AC using an inverter. If you want the details on how to do this, check out this page that explains it. ( https://michaelbluejay.com/batteries/dc-christmas-lights.html)
AC generators can produce the power you need to run your Christmas lights. Using a generator for powering Christmas lights is a good solution if you need to power them in a remote location. A gas powered generator will make a lot of noise and put out fumes. A solar powered generator would be a good power source when you need to light Christmas lights on the go. They make less noise, don’t require gas, and you can get very small portable solar powered generators.
A good alternative to power Christmas lights with a generator in a remote location is to use ones that are battery powered or solar powered. If you are at your home, it would be a better idea to hook you lights up to an outlet from your home, as opposed to using a generator.
Solar powered Christmas lights are now available with on off switches and timers. These are great to use at your home or anywhere. The solar panels absorb energy and store it for later use. Many units can run for up to 12 hours when they are fully charged.
The wires you use for powering your Christmas lights are very important. One mistake many homeowners make is to use an indoor extension cord for powering Christmas lights outdoors. Search some forums and you will find people saying they use indoor cords for powering their outdoor lights. I would advise against this.
Outdoor extension cords are rated for use outside. You can have a discussion about why some cords are better than others, but don’t follow the advice of anyone that says to use an indoor cord outdoors.
When your cords are covered by an eave, then there maybe less chance of rain water or snow getting on them. This doesn’t mean you don’t have to use an outdoor cord. When your Christmas lights and extension cords are outside, they are exposed to all of the elements. Things like extreme heat, cold, humidity, and other conditions will have an effect on your wiring.
When your cords and wires are completely exposed to rain and snow, you should raise the places where they are connected. This will keep the connections from sitting in water. Although outdoor cords are designed to not allow water to enter at the plugs, the protection can still fail. When your connections are sitting in water, there is a high potential for danger.
It is not recommended to power outdoor Christmas lights during rain since they may short out once they come in contact with water, which could be dangerous and create a fire hazard. It is also not recommended to power your Christmas lights in the snow.
Tips to consider when powering your Christmas Lights
1. Use a power strip to plug in multiple strings of lights
Power strips are the simplest way to power outdoor Christmas lights. Plug one end of your power strip into an outlet and plug in multiple strings of lights on the other side. If you’re only using a few strings, it’s fine if they’re plugged directly into the power outlet (just make sure not to overload them).
If you don’t have access to an outside power source, consider getting a battery operated string of lights that plugs in with a USB cable or some solar powered string lights (there are even some that plug directly into the wall). You could also use rechargeable batteries and LED Christmas lights—just make sure to buy a power pack for them.
2. Connect the string of lights to an extension cord and then plug that into your outdoor outlet or power strip
When your ready, connect your lights to an extension cord and plug the power strip into your outdoor power outlet or power strip.
When using an extension cord, make sure not to use one that’s too long. Also, be careful when cutting the grass or walking around in your yard. You can get bright colored cords, though, I know they’re not popular because they don’t blend in. You should disconnect your extension cord and roll it up when you cut your grass.
Remember to check for power cord safety—using a power strip with surge protection can save your lights from damage during storms or wintertime.
If your outdoor outlet doesn’t have GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) circuitry, get a power strip that does.
3. Choose a light timer that will turn off the lights after a certain amount of time or during daylight hours
A light timer can help you power your outdoor lights without you having to remember to turn them on and off every night. You can set it for a certain amount of hours, days, or weeks and the power will automatically turn off after that time period has elapsed.
This is great if you’re going away on vacation for a few weeks during Christmas time. It can let your keep your house festive while your away. It will also signal to would be intruders that someone may be home. Consider using one with a photocell that will power up at dusk and shut off again during daylight hours if needed.
There are many options for powering your outdoor Christmas lights. Take the time to see what works for you. The first choice of power if you are at home will probably be an outdoor electric outlet. But it may not be. You may decide to go with battery or solar powered Christmas lights. Whichever power source you decide to use, follow all recommended safety measures. This will let you and your family have a merry Christmas.