How To Troubleshoot Christmas Lights

When the Christmas season arrives each year, it becomes time to remember how to troubleshoot your Christmas lights. You get out all of your Christmas decorations and set up your tree. Now you can't go any farther until you check all of your light strings. You have to make sure they all light up and are safe to use. It takes a little time to get them all checked, but it is worth it to make your lights as safe as you can.

You need the following items to troubleshoot your lights:

  • all of the light strings you plan to use
  • a power outlet
  • spare fuses and bulbs
  • a pair of wire strippers or a small sharp knife
  • electrical tape
  • wire nuts

To check your light strings, follow these steps.

  1. Straighten out the light strings. Lay the strings out as straight as you can. You need to be able to see the bulbs and the wires without any tangles.
  2. Look carefully at the wires from one end to the other. Watch for kinks in the wire. Any places where the wire is broken, or even partially broken and exposed, needs to be fixed.
  3. Wrap electrical tape around any exposed wires. Completely cover the exposed section so no water or anything else can touch the bare wire.
  4. Splice broken areas back together. Peel off the plastic coating on each side of the broken section using the wire strippers or knife. You need to have about an inch of exposed wire on both sides to be able to splice it back together.
  5. Twist the exposed wires back together. Twist it together like you do the tie on a loaf of bread. Twist a wire nut down over the connected wires as far as you can. Hold the wire nut so it lays flat against the string. Wrap the tape around until any exposed wire and the wire nut are completely covered.
  6. Repeat steps 3 and 4 for each broken section. If there are more that three sections of wire needing repaired, remove the bulbs from the entire string and discard the wire. The bulbs and fuse can be used as spares in your other Christmas lights. If there are three or less, fix them and move on.
  7. Plug the string into the power outlet. If none of the bulbs are lit up, change the fuse. Unplug the string from the outlet, open the fuse slot and remove the fuse. Put in a replacement fuse and close the slot. Plug the string back in. If the lights come on now, you can move on. If they don't light up now, take out all of the bulbs to use as spares, discard this string and replace the entire string.
  8. Pull the light string through your lap to look at each bulb. You can let the string fall into a neat pile beside you as they are lit up.
  9. Look at each bulb. If it is working, move on to the next bulb. If it is dark, it needs to be replaced.
  10. Remove the dark bulb. Many light strings are wired so that a whole section goes out if one bulb is removed. They will light back up when the new bulb is put in.
  11. Put in a replacement bulb of the same color. If you don't have one the same color, try to put one that is at least a different color from the bulbs on either side of it. If that bulb doesn't work, take it back out and try a different one.
  12. Keep trying until you get one in that lights up. If you go through all of your spare bulbs, put the original bulb back and move on to the next dark one. If only a couple are blown, they will be won't be noticed on the tree.

Go over the entire string of Christmas lights. When you get to the end, all of the lights should be working. Move on to your next string of lights. Repeat all of the steps for each string you plan to use. When you have checked all of them, you are ready to put them up.

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