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How to Repair Christmas Tree Lights

Burned-out holiday lights, even the cheap kind, are often fixable with a small investment of time and money. Here’s how to diagnose and fix common problems.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

How to Repair Christmas Tree Lights

Burned-out holiday lights, even the cheap kind, are often fixable with a small investment of time and money. Here’s how to diagnose and fix common problems.

Check the trouble spots

Judging by our mail, it seems that most of us have experienced the frustration of uncooperative holiday lights. There’s a simple way to solve the problem. First, slide back the plastic covering on the plug to check the fuse (Photo 1). Some strings have more than one fuse, in which case they’ll be next to each other. Replace any blown fuses. New ones are available where holiday lights are sold and at some electronics stores.

Second, test the bulbs with an inexpensive tester, available where holiday lights are sold and online. Usually, changing a problem bulb (or tightening it) will fix the entire strand. The tester will indicate which bulbs are bad and need to be replaced. (For the tester to work, the lights must be plugged into the electrical outlet correctly—the narrow “hot” blade into the narrow slot and the wide neutral blade into the wide slot.)

Some testers work by having you slide each bulb through a hole (Photo 2). With other testers, you simply touch each bulb (Photo 3). You can test an entire strand in a few minutes. Sometimes you have two or more defective bulbs, so only identifying one bad bulb may not fix the problem.

Keep in mind that inexpensive strings of lights aren’t durable. At the end of the holiday season, take down the lights with care. Don’t pull too hard on the wires. A loose bulb, broken socket or frayed wire is sometimes all it takes for the strand to malfunction.

After taking down the lights, plug them in before storing them, to make sure they still work. Then carefully wrap the lights in their original or similar containers, making sure the bulbs don’t bang together. Proper storage is key to their continued success. Wadding them up in a coil and stuffing them into a box will almost guarantee they won’t work next year.

Also be aware that most holiday light bulbs have short life expectancies, about 1,000 to 1,500 hours. This means the lights are designed to last one to three seasons, depending on your usage. Newer style LED (light-emitting diode) lights are the exception. They can last 10 times longer than traditional lights.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

The only tool you’ll need is a bulb tester.

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

    • Light string fuses
    • Replacement light bulbs

Comments from DIY Community Members

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December 14, 2:54 PM [GMT -5]

Just a little warning here... Most all of the Christmas light sets have lead in the coating on the wire, even a new set will. So you might want to wear some gloves when handleing and wash up after. Enjoy your Christmas!

December 14, 2:39 PM [GMT -5]

If only LED lights weren't so ugly.

December 05, 1:39 PM [GMT -5]

Better yet, trash them and get some new LED lights. LEDs are cheap, reliable, safer and use less energy. And, there will be even better LED lights in a few years, so you can plan on replacing them and passing the old ones to someone else later on. Either way, you win, because you've saved energy and hassle, helped someone else, and upgraded your lights. They will still pay for themselves after a few years.

November 27, 10:19 PM [GMT -5]

Simply fix your lights:
1. Go to local hardware store and purchase cheap $5-$10 Dollar Voltage Tester.
2. Plug the single bad strip of lights into a an electrical Outlet
3. Starting from where the lights plug in and start working towards the other end, don't pull the bulb out of the socket.
4. Lightly unravel the bulb socket from the other seperable wires to give about 1 inch of clearance and then hold your voltage tester to the bulb.
5. If it chirps, there's voltage, that's good! If not, then replace the previous bulb! (If the first bulb does not make it chirp, replace the fuse)
6. If lights did not come on, continue checking using steps 3 through 5.

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