Why is learning how to fix Christmas lights important? That time of year again, every string of Christmas lights is down until next year. While I try to find any excuse to keep holiday lights up, alas they eventually have to be put away. However, before you just wait for the next holiday season to get started, make sure all string lights are working. Unlike incandescent light bulb strings of lights, LED Christmas lights are more resilient, for better and for worse. Once upon a time, single burned-out bulbs would make an entire light strand go dark. With newer technologies, LED strings will continue strong with more than one broken light bulbs. The upgraded wires and fuses in modern Christmas tree lights will pick up the slack for broken bulbs. However, this means a light string may seem okay as individual bulbs are lit but careful examination is needed.
Should You Bother Learning How To Fix Christmas Lights?
When hardware stores line their shelves with frugal Christmas decorations each year, the ‘disposable mindset’ is very obvious. Pre-lit artificial trees at Home Depot make the idea of a big beautiful Christmas easily within reach. The problem is, the cheaper things are, the more likely they are to break quickly. So is it better to just buy new lights instead of getting extra bulbs and fixing the ones you have? Two points I would respond with: (1) unless the supplies to put in a new bulb are more expensive, go ahead and replace/appreciate/take care of what you have and (2) consider slowly building your display with higher quality/expensive materials.
The best option in the long run, both time wise and cost wise, is to skip your local hardware store and get the better stuff that lasts. This will make it take longer to build your display but less headaches down the road. However, this definitely means that you want to take the time to learn all the little technical skills. Correct voltage rating, loose connection, how to make sure every single bulb is a good bulb are important topics.
How to Fix Christmas Lights And Their Most Common Causes Of Failing
Good news for average decorators is there are only six common problems to check before tossing out a rope light. If some of your outdoor Christmas lights are working, then the house would not be an issue. Furthermore, the extension cords should not be an issue if only part, not the whole strand, is not working.
1-Problems With Your House
Your first and easily overlooked solution is to make sure your problem isn’t the power source. The first step in diagnosing problems should be to check your fuse box. Different scenarios will make a fuse box think the electrical current is too large or unstable to handle. To prevent damage, the fuse box will cut the electrical connection on its own by flipping a switch. The switch will act as a circuit breaker, cutting the connection between the plug outlet and the main power. This will prevent fires or other issues. Go to your fuse box and see if a switch is flipped in the opposite direction of the others. Each switch should be marked and if it’s marked for the outside, try flipping it back and see what happens. If they aren’t all marked, that should definitely be a future project for your house safety.
Plug outlets themselves also often have a built in fuse, you may have seen this in your bathroom. You will see an orange light indicating the fuse is flipped. There are two buttons beside the light, one is the tester button and the other is the reset button. The ‘tester’ makes sure the outlets fuse will flip, while ‘reset’ works identical to flipping the switch back as above. Although it’s rare, an electrical outlet will break so try plugging in something else, ensuring the object you’re using works first. If that’s working fine then move on to the next step.
2-Problems With Your Extension Cords
Testing your extensions cord with another item is important but only a superficial check. Examine further to make sure there are no areas that are cracked open with bare wires. Age and weather can lead to openings along protective coating which will allow rain and snow in. Tiny wires can have their conductivity affected by moisture as the water will create instability in the connection. Your best bet is simple electrical tape over the affected area.
Furthermore, where extension cords attach to themselves, the plug outlet, or lights can be a risk for moisture as well. The three best ways to fix this problem are: (1) cling wrap and/or electrical tape, (2) tupperware, and (3) official cord covers. Cling wrap and electrical tape are self explanatory, when wrapped around the area, they will create a waterproof cover. This is the cheapest and easiest option but is both easily torn and slow to fully remove.
‘Put a Lid On It’ (Dad joke at its best)
Option 2 involves taking a tupperware tub and cutting a hole in the side the same size as the cord. If the hole’s too big then the problem will be worse as the tub will fill with water over time. To then get the ends inside, cut a slit from the top to the hole and ease the slit apart. Once you ease the cord into the tub, the cover snapped on will hold the slit closed. This is more resilient and reusable but, over the years, the tub will be weather worn and eventually crack. I will post a how-to video on these two options this week.
Option three is the most expensive but quickest, most reusable, and guaranteed solution, also the most aesthetically pleasing. It’s a handy tool made for this exact purpose with a water tight container for your plug to go in. It will mount easily to anything needed and opens/closes in a snap.
Click on the above photo for examples to purchase
Before moving on to the more time consuming checks, ensuring each bulb is properly intact is a good idea. The average strand of lights comes with removable bulbs to be able to fix and continue using. A loose bulb will act as an empty socket which breaks the closed circuit. Closed circuit means bulbs pass along current to the next bulb so, if loose, it won’t pass electricity along. The obvious question then is why doesn’t the entire string go out then? The simple answer is there is a parallel circuit within the string of lights that carries a different line of electricity. This means the light set has multiple ‘roads’ for electricity to travel along so one break only blocks THAT road.
As above, if there’s a faulty bulb then it may not conduct electricity properly and you will need replacement bulbs. This is where you get into the true nitty gritty of how to fix Christmas lights. To find burnt-out bulbs, there’s a few simple steps to checking, depending whether you want to spend time vs money. If time is more of a concern then an all-in-one Christmas light repair tool is the way to go. The only one that has stood the test of time is lightkeeper pro. There are two forms of it: the light keeper pro for incandescent lights or its LED sister, LED keeper. While it is a very reasonable price, the cost may be out of your reach so I will give more frugal options for each step as well.
Option 1 is to use a voltage detector, the tool I spoke of has one built in but you can also use a stand alone voltage tester. Unfortunately, buying the stand alone option is the only cheaper option here and also not cheaper by a lot. For incandescent lights, you would do well to just go to light keepers FAQ page for how to use it. For LED lights, the LED keeper has the ability to become the power source and create its own circuit. To elaborate, you can plug the light string into the light keeper then pierce the cord at a random place. If every light between the plug and the pierced point lights up, move along until the lights stop lighting. Once they stop, you know there is a break in the current and can then zero in on the culprit.
Option 2 is to try removing each bulb that isn’t lighting one by one and testing to see if it is the issue. The picture shows where the bulb tester is built into the light keeper. The alternative to this option is to use a string where you know none of the lights are an issue. In the second string, you can pop one bulb out and try each questionable bulb in its place. If each bulb works then move on to the next point.
5-How To Fix Christmas Lights When They Have a Blown Fuse
To discuss what makes a bad fuse, you need to understand the role of fuses. They are there as an emergency button to prevent disasters in your cord. Electricity creates heat so the more electricity flowing, the more chance it will create a fire and/or self destruct. There can be different possible causes why there’s too much electricity flowing, most commonly attaching too many strings together. In the holiday spirit, the more lights the better but they have recommendations for the max number of connected lights. Ultimately, less energy flowing in a wire will create less heat. So to prevent overheating, fuses will short themselves out to break the electrical connection and stop the flow of electricity.
A broken fuse should be obvious but there are quick options for the untrained eyes. The frugal option is to take fuses out of the aforementioned working lights and try subbing those in. The light keeper pro does also have a built in fuse tester. The obvious question to those new to fixing light strings is where would I even put a replacement fuse? To see if you need new fuses, there is a sliding door near the male end of your cord. The little door always seems difficult to me to open but my recommended hack is using a small flathead screwdriver. The same screwdriver is what I then use to pop out the fuses and push in the new extra fuse.
6-Broken Wires, When To Give Up On How To Fix Christmas Lights
If a wire is hanging loose or pulled out of anywhere, it is absolutely unsafe to fix. Put away your soldering gun as it’s not worth it, get a new set of lights and harvest what works. The remaining bulbs and old fuse will be helpful for future light repairs.
Now that you have a handle on making your entire strand light up bright, hopefully you’ll find decorating less frustrating. While learning and practicing how to fix Christmas lights is hard work, it can be very fulfilling. I’d recommend checking your whole string before putting away and then when you get things out early the next year. Also, make sure to review my other posts on lights before you purchase to make sure you choose right.