Sunday, September 9, 2012

{DIY}: Outdoor String Lights

This past labor day, we made posts to hang string lights to hang around our deck. I'm so thrilled with how they turned out!




So I thought I'd pass on the instructions so you can make them, too. 
CafĂ© style string lights are something I've wanted for our deck since the day we built it. But I could never find the right structure for it. A pergola is too much, but flimsy poles wouldn't cut it either. This summer, I found the solution: Electrical conduit! By chance on pinterest, I found this post about making curtain rods from inexpensive, sturdy electrical conduit from the hardware store. I thought it would be the perfect raw material for this project. The best part? Each 10 foot piece cost a mere $4. Amazing! 

The poles are essentially three 10 foot pieces of electrical conduit with pipe straps attached as hooks and end caps attached at the top. To secure them into the ground, we buried pieces of plastic piping just large enough for the conduit to fit inside. We then inserted the poles into the buried pipes at varying depths (our deck is on a slant). The result is a secure set of supports for our lights that cost around $30! 

Here is the step by step breakdown: 



Step One: Using an awl, puncture the conduit about 3 inches from the top to make drilling easier. Of course, you could make the hooks higher or lower, but 3 inches looked about right.


Here's a close up of the label on the tube we bought. Make sure you totally remove any stickers and residual goo before painting so your finish looks good. 



Step 2: Spray paint! We used Rust-Oleum in Dark Bronze. We used all of one can and just a tiny bit of a second can. (For some reason I missed taking a picture of spray painting the conduit itself - but you get the idea). We painted the conduit, hooks, and caps separately. An old edging tie worked well to help me get all the sides of the hooks evenly painted. (As a bonus, you get a nice view of my favorite painting shirt!) Then after it was assembled, I gave it one final sweep to cover the head of the screw. 



Step 3: Cut lengths of plastic electrical conduit to a length of a minimum of 18 inches, and ideally 24 inches. Our deck is on a slant, so its higher on one side than the other. So each piece of piping was a different length between those two measurements. The piece of pipe we bought was 1 inch in diameter. The conduit was 3/4 of an inch, so it was a perfect fit. 



Step 4: Attach the pipe straps (hooks). You can use a screwdriver or a drill for this. Jeremy started the screws with a screwdriver and then drilled them in. 

 




Step 5: Attach the Caps. We bought 1/2 inch "Knock Out Seals" for this. They are essentially flat caps with metal ribbing on the inside that securely seals it at the end of the pipe. I'm sure they have a precise and specific purpose which probably has nothing to do with what we used it for, but it worked perfectly! We just needed to use pliers to adjust the angle of the metal ribbing inside so it fit well. 



Step 6: Bury the pipes. Jeremy gets major credit for this. (Actually he gets major credit for the majority of the project, as you can see by who's doing what in the photos!).  I wish I could say the process of burying the pipes in the ground was precise and exact, but that is so not our style (!). We completely lucked out with the depth of the pipe. We were quite shocked when the poles all measured the same height in the end (actually they are about 1/2 an inch off from each other, which is too small to detect with the eye - good enough for us!). Being that our deck is built on slanted ground, this was a major win. Also, I spray painted the part of the pipe that is visible above ground after the fact, but didn't take a photo of it. Only one needed to be painted, as the other two are completely concealed by plants. About 6 inches of pipe sticks up out of the ground. 

Step 7: Insert poles into their fittings and attach extra pipe straps to the exterior wall where the lights will hang. 

{If you luck out with the heights of your poles, cheer!}

Step 8: Drape lights from your poles, and you are done! 




This project was so rewarding. The lights cast a warm, flattering glow that will be perfect for entertaining. I also love that we can take them down easily by lifting the poles out of the ground and unhooking the lights. Easy! 

You should do it. 

Here's the cost breakdown: 

3 10 foot long pieces of electrical conduit, 3/4 inch in diameter: $3.98 each - $11.94
1 10 foot long piece of plastic piping (in the same aisle as the conduit, I'm assuming it also has an electrical function) - $2.92
2 Packages of single anchor pipe straps, 3/4 inch diameter - $.98 each, $1.96
1 Package of 1/2 inch Knock Out Seals - $1.30
2 Cans of Rust-Oleum Hammered Dark Bronze Spray Paint - $5.98 each - $11.96

Total: $30.08! 

The String Lights are from Target and cost $12.95 for each 20 foot strand. Our deck is 10 feet x 20 feet, so we needed 2 strands. 

This brings the final total for this project to $55.98! Not bad considering the many more expensive alternatives out there. I'm in love. Even though the weather is cooling down, I have a plan to make good use of the lights soon. Will keep you posted! 

Love, 


Caitlin



65 comments:

  1. “This project was so rewarding.” - I definitely agree! It feels great to see the end-results of your hard work, and to know that you did it beautifully! Job well done on the lights! It definitely radiates a warm glow on the porch. I can imagine people having some dinner at night with the flattering lights. And you did it at a fraction of a cost!

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    1. Thank you so much, Allison! Its looking pretty wintery and dead out there now, but the lights still add a bit of magic. You're next, right? ;)

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  2. did you find the electrical conduit bend with the weight of the string lights? we just did this project this weekend and am SO please with house it turned out - but the poles are not the most sturdy things and bend with the tension of the strign lights.

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    1. Hi Lauren,

      So glad it worked out for you! The electrical conduit we chose was super thick and doesn't really have much bend to it, though it does lean just slightly at the top. The only thing I'd say is make sure that your poles are buried far enough in the ground to stabilize them, and maybe try hanging your lights a bit more loosely so they don't pull as much. Hope that helps!

      Caitlin

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    2. I just did basically the same project (thanks Caitlin), and the poles will bend depending the distance you are trying to cover. The longest pole to pole distance I covered was 24 feet and that is kinda long for a 3/4 pipe. I recommend going to a 1 inch conduit if you are covering more than 20 feet.

      cr

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  3. I think the single anchor pipe straps could be just as useful for stringing lights along other environments. They'd work great to attach lights to a long barn beam without other means of attachment for example (if you want the lights to follow the lines of the beam.

    Very nice DIY tutorial. I'll keep it in mind to link to on future posts of my own.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Daniel,

      Thanks so much! I hadn't thought of that, but you're right - I think they'd be perfect. I'd love to see pictures if you ever try it!

      Best,

      Caitlin

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  4. I love this idea!! I want to do something similar for a dinner party in a grassy area in my yard. I have a question about burying the pipe. Did you guys just hammer it in? That's what I would probably try, but I have no idea if that would work...

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    1. Hi Jess!

      It was mostly hammering. Jeremy hammered the pipe down, then pulled it up to clear the soil from inside it, then hammered it down again. It took a few times of this to get the pipe sunk down enough and clear of soil. You also might have to fill in around it with soil if your hole starts to get too large.

      Good luck!

      Caitlin

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    2. I have a good solution for hammering the piping into the ground. What I did was before I hammered the PVC into the ground, I cut the bottom of the pvc on a 45 degree angle on each side making it like a stake. It went into the ground like butter. You could always use a wood stake as a starter to create the hole. They can be found in the wood section at home depot or lowes. (Thanks again Caitlin for posted the project).

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  5. Thank you so much for posting this! I've been spending hours googling "poles for string lights" and this tutorial is exactly what I needed. Can't wait to do this this summer!

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    1. You are so welcome! Enjoy your new lights!

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  6. Thank you so much for this post! I've been trying to find where to buy string lights in Aust, and now I not only know where to find them but how to hang them up as well :-D
    Thanks heaps!

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  7. Oh my gosh. Have been Looking for something like this for ...forever...my son's graduation party is coming up so I am so excited to do this with my husband (and yes, i am sure he will do the majority of project...but I love to paint!). thank you thank you thank you.

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    1. My pleasure! Congratulations to your son and enjoy the party!

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  8. Thank you for sharing this! Exactly what I needed! One thing I've also seen online and might try - instead of burying the pipe in the ground, get a plastic flower pot, set shorter plastic "lead" pipe in concrete. The concrete adds weight which stabilizes the taller pole, and it's moveable. You can even only put concrete half way and soil the rest, and plant flowers around the pipe in the pot. I read that party rental companies do this all the time using just plastic buckets from lowes or home depot and put concrete in it.

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    1. Great idea - I can definitely see the advantage of making them movable.

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  9. I've always loved the idea of lights in our backyard. Well, my partner is throwing a birthday party for me this Saturday, and I thought it was a great excuse to try it out. Thanks for the tips! We went to the hardware store yesterday morning and completed by late afternoon. We sat outside last night with a glass of wine, the breeze of the Palm Springs desert and the glow of our new lights! Awesome! Thanks for such a great idea!

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    1. Fantastic! Palm Springs is sounding pretty amazing right now. Enjoy!

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    2. Hey Desert Scott did you have issues getting the poles to go into the grounding consider the hard desert dirt? I live in Twentynine palms which is a short drive from Palm Springs? I haven't tried this yet but I definitely want to and I am worried about getting the poles buried in the dirt.

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  10. Great Idea! Curious to when you hammered the PVC into the ground if it too was capped. My thought is that dirt will fill the inside of the hollow tubing, therefore not giving you a true depth?

    #diypatiopros,

    Chad

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    1. Hi Chad,

      Our PVC was most definitely not capped. We had to pull the pipe out once or twice to remove the dirt inside so that it turned out deep enough. I think doing it that way would be a good idea though - we definitely "winged it" and totally lucked out on our depth. If we ever attempt this again I'd try that.

      Best,

      Caitlin

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  11. This is so awesome! Definitely trying this one soon---question? Where/what kind of stringed lights did you use? I've looked at target.com and found some for $12.99 but the reviews say they're very fragile and don't last...did you run into this with your brand of lights? I just want to make sure I buy lights that are durable and will last :) thanks so much!

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    1. Hi Steffy,

      Thank you! I've just done another search on target's website, and I don't see our lights anymore. They are just plain, non frosted bulbs. (These ones are very close, at World Market right now - http://www.worldmarket.com/product/clear-bulb-string-lights.do?&from=fn) As for fragile - They are pretty decent I think. Because the glass is thin, I could see them breaking if they were dropped from a decent height. With that said, ours have been securely hanging in this setup since September, and have endured freezing cold winter temps, Colorado's famously high winds, and crazy spring rains with no problems yet. I was a bit worried about the thin glass in the cold - but they froze totally over and thawed out several times without breaking.

      Hope that helps!

      Caitlin

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  12. Thank you for such a clear and easy-to-follow post about the one thing I had a hard time finding help for online :) love the solutions and the "winged" style of not necessarily following strict steps.. exactly how I go about projects! I may even write a post on this project for our Memorial Day BBQ, and will for sure credit your blog.
    Thanks again! Great photos btw!

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    1. Thanks Thais! Glad to find a fellow "just wing it" person. I would love to see how yours turn out!

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  13. I purchased lights from Target and I started to search for how to put some sort of a pole to hang them. I'm so glad I found your post. And I am very excited to start working on this during the weekend! Thanks so much for sharing this with us!! Roberto

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  14. Thanks for the wonderful idea on using the piping to secure around the deck. I plan to take all the bulbs off the string when we attach them to the poles then add them back on when we're finished.

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    1. Not a bad idea, Jodi. Then you definitely won't have any broken bulbs. Enjoy your lights!

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  15. Coming back with feedback! Your how-to was wonderful and definitely worked! In the case of my backyard though, I had to attach the poles to something sturdy, seeing that no matter how deep we buried the pipes, they still bent to an angle, making the lights super low in the center of the yard. Once the poles were attached to the corners of our fence with almost invisible zip-ties, all worked out.

    Also, Jodi's idea of taking the bulbs off prior to installing is great, just wish I had thought of that before I broke a few and had to run back to Target for bulb replacements. Overall, we're extremely happy with how it came out and I'm thankful to you! :)

    Have a wonderful weekend!

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    1. That's great! I'm glad to hear that it worked out for you! Our soil is rock hard clay here in Colorado, so its pretty solid. Glad you figured out a way to make it work!

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  16. How did you attach them to your house?

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    1. Hi! We attached extra pipe straps to the side of the house and hooked the lights on them.

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  17. This is exactly what I have been looking for! These exact instructions! Thank you!!

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  18. This is exactly what we had in mind for our house, but weren't sure how to make it happen. Thanks for the great tutorial. We love how it came out and enjoying our lights!

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    1. That's great! You're very welcome Kelly.

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  19. Caitlin,
    How did you supply power to these lights? Do you have the attached to an extension cord and plugged in an outdoor outlet?

    Thanks so much for the tutorial! Looking forward to creating this in our Wisconsin backyard!
    Kristin

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    1. Hi Kristin,

      Yes, they are plugged in to an outdoor extension cord that hangs down near the door, right above an outdoor outlet.

      Good luck!

      Caitlin

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  20. Thanks for the wonderful tutorial! I threw these lights up at the last minute yesterday for a Father's Day celebration, but I ended up duct-taping them for the time being, because I couldn't get the awl to puncture the conduit (at least not without about 100 whacks with the hammer...and even that resulted only in a pin-sized hole). Could I ask about your awl? I bought this whimpy one (http://www.homedepot.com/p/Husky-3-in-Scratch-Awl-with-ClearHandle-74352/100047130#.Ub9VEdj3NFA), but yours looks more hard-core.

    I love the lights--they create a wonderful little outdoor room! Also, if anyone else is wondering, like I was, how to illuminate one's patio without an outdoor outlet, I found out about this handy converter that screws into a lightbulb socket: http://www.homedepot.com/p/Leviton-660-Watt-Duplex-Lamp-Holder-to-Outlet-Adapter-White-R54-00125-00W/100357036#.Ub9Wdtj3NFA

    Many, many thanks!
    Isabella

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    1. Hi Isabella,

      Way to get it done! Duct tape always works in a bind. About the awl - its my husband's, and he uses it to puncture auto panels, so its pretty heavy duty. The entire thing is heavy metal, and it looks much thicker than the one you have. Hopefully you were able to get the holes punctured since posting this.

      And thank you for posting the lightbulb socket converter - that is very cool!

      Caitlin

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    2. Thanks for your response! My mom suggested using a nail-set when I showed her the photos, so that's what I tried after the duct tape gave out. It did the trick! (She uses electrical conduit for all sorts of things and is thrilled to have a way to make holes in it.)

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  21. Your instructions are great! Thanks so much for posting them!

    (And talk about a small world: I'm pretty sure that you folks are my neighbors! I've been seeing your patio lights since last year whenever I drive home on West 107th Place, and every time I see them I've told myself I needed to look you up and ask how you did them. Well, now all I have to do is look on the web so I don't need to bother you with silly questions :)

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    1. Well Hi Neighbor!

      What a small world indeed - you're right, that's us! You are welcome to come over any time and check them out! :)

      Caitlin

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  22. Thanks Caitlin for putting this up . I did it today and it looks great!

    Conor
    Longmont CO

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    1. Awesome, Conor! Glad it worked for you.

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  23. I've been wanting to do something like this since I moved into my house two years ago, I just didn't know how. Thank you, from one Coloradoan to another!

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    1. You're welcome Megan! I'm sure it will look awesome.

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  24. I'm thankful for people like you for taking the time to put these instructions together. Just like many people here, I was having trouble finding a good method to hang string lights for our wedding. A few Google searches later, and I found your this site. So thank you for saving our butt, and making this doable for us!

    God Bless!

    Joel

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    1. Thanks, Joel, I'm glad to help! And Happy Wedding to you!

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  25. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  26. Great idea! Love your project! Do you think it would work with 5 gallon buckets and cement? We need a mobile way to string lights for our wedding...next weekend.

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    1. Hi Sarita,

      By now, you must already be married - congratulations! I know its after the fact, but I actually do think it would work perfectly with buckets and cement. Someone suggested flower pots above, which would be great too - not so eye catching. At any rate, I hope your wedding was beautiful!

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  27. I followed these instructions exactly including the spray painting after searching for awhile for a pole solution to hang lights and only finding expensive options. I now have a beautifully lit back yard and a lot of friends and neighbors wanting these directions so I've sent them here. Thank you so much you saved me a lot of time and money!

    I purchased 100' of lights for $86 here-
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Novelty-Lights-G50-Globe-Bulb-Outdoor-Patio-Decorative-String-Light-Set-100-/321101346424?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&var=&hash=item4ac321b678

    If you don't need that much, you can click either "similar items" or "sellers other items" on the bottom of the page to see other options and other sizes :)

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    1. Hi! Thats fantastic, I'm so glad it worked for you. And that is a great deal for lots of lights - thank you for sharing that source!

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  28. One of the most incredible, easy, inexpensive ways to create a pleasant looking backyard. Thank you very much. After remodeling out backyard, the expense was a drop in the bucket but the results are outstanding!

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  29. I looked everywhere for instructions on how to hang lights over a patio we just built. All of them required me to pour an concrete block to fix the rods in. But your instructions are perfect, affordable and adaptable! Thank you so much for this.. :)

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  30. I've been dying to do this to our patio since we had it installed but one question:

    how are your target string lights holding up? I saw them in my local store and the only thing keeping me from buying them was that I was skeptical they would be nice enough quality to last outdoors. Did any of the bulbs fill with water, crack, fall off, burn out super fast, etc.?

    Thanks!! And love the tutorial!

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    1. Hi Kelly,

      I've now had the string lights up year round in blistering heat and subzero, frozen-tundra cold (-8 this past February!) for almost two years, and I have yet to have a single light burst or break. No water leaks, no cracks, and no burn outs! I'm actually quite shocked myself - I didn't expect them to last the way they have. When its cold, they freeze and thaw themselves right out again. So I can give you an enthusiastic recommendation on the Target $12.99 lights.

      Hope that helps!

      Caitlin

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