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Christmas Light Troubleshooting

Filed Under: Holidays, Crafts & Celebrations

Don't let tangled up wires or burnt out bulbs bring out the Grinch in you. We've got foolproof solutions to your Christmas light conundrums.

Christmas lights, string lightsPhoto: Getty Images

There's something about the glow of holiday lights that makes me feel all warm and toasty on the inside, even in the heart of winter. Hanging lights is a project that, for most DIYers, is fairly easy to do, even outdoors in the cold. But let's face it: the preparation can really burn you out -- literally.

If you're like me, you've probably spent each holiday season cursing at an enormous mass of tangled strings of lights, trying to figure out where to start. And it's not like you have anyone to blame but yourself, really. Tangles happen when you don't put away Christmas lights properly the year before. Sure, string lights never look as neat and tidy as they did when they were in the package, just like your fitted sheet never does fold quite as neatly after first use. But there are ways that you can minimize the headache of de-tangling lights for Christmases yet to come.

Untangling Christmas Lights
First, locate the plug (it's chunky so it should be easy to spot) and use it as your guide. Gently work the plug in and out of the wires, unwinding the strands little by little as you go. Don't let go of the plug, and don't pull too hard, as you can damage the lights. As you untangle, keep the lines straight and lay them out on the floor or wrap them around your arm from hand to elbow (like a hose).

Locating a Burnt Out Bulb in Christmas Lights
Even though your lights are now untangled, you're not completely out of the woods yet. You're bound to find at least one -- or a series -- of burnt out lights on your string. Since Christmas lights are wired together, one bad bulb can cause electricity to stop flowing properly, and it can look like you have a series of bad bulbs when, in fact, it's just one bad apple causing the problem.

You best bet is to check for burnt out bulbs before you decorate by plugging them in indoors and giving the string a once-over. Sometimes, you can spot the bad bulbs without even plugging them in; burnt out bulbs are usually dark in the center, almost black. Other times, a bad bulb is not so easy to spot. There are a few options to help you locate the bad seed. The LightKeeper PRO is a product that gives the bulb a jolt of electricity, which can re-complete the circuit making the dead bulb easier to locate.

LightKeeper PROLightKeeper PRO

If that doesn't work, you can also use the LightKeeper PRO as a hum tracer. A hum tracer, which you can buy at your local hardware store, detects whether there is electricity running through a wire by making a humming sound. To use a hum tracer, you must first locate the bulb wire. On a strand of lights there are typically three wires together: the "hot" wire with the live AC current, "cold" or ground wire and the bulb wire. You will want to separate out the bulb wire and run the hum tracer along the bulb wire. Where the hum stops is where you likely have the bad bulb. If there are multiples, mark them with a piece of masking tape so you can go back and replace them all at once.

Once you've located a burnt bulb, you can easily replace it with a backup. When you purchase a set of Christmas lights, often times there are some extra bulbs included for this situation. I recommend also purchasing an extra strand of lights as well in case you have a serious outage.

Before you replace a bulb, be sure to unplug the lights from the wall and give the bulbs time to cool off before touching them. The bulb will simply pop out of its base and you can snap a new bulb right in. Plug the lights back in to retest them. If that didn't work, you may have another bad bulb somewhere on that strand or you will need to replace the whole strand. If you have to toss them, instead try taking them to your local Home Depot for a trade!

Storing Christmas Lights Properly
When it's time to put your lights away for the year (I know you don't really want to think about that yet), wrap the strands around the inserts that came with your lights. If you don't have the original packaging, cut a piece of cardboard from a box and wrap the lights around that. Using a permanent marker, label each piece of cardboard to indicate which lights are for what (i.e., "icicles," "tree", "front bushes", "wreaths").

Another option is to use wrapping paper tubes. Save all those cardboard tubes once you're done wrapping your presents, cut slits in both ends and wrap the lights around, threading the ends just like thread on a spool.

Or check out this great tip from blogger Oh Amanda on how she and her husband wrangle their lights.

holiday lights storageNeu Home Holiday Lights Storage Box

A great product to help make Christmas light storage easier is the Neu Home Holiday Lights Storage Box, which sells for less than $10. Iit's a nice neat little package that guarantees a less frustrating decking of your halls next year. Just wind the strings of lights up on the bobbin-like organizers and place them in the box. You can even label each spool to easily locate the right set of lights.

Unusual Uses for Christmas Items
Display Outdoor Christmas Lights Safely (Lifehacker)
Video: DIY Holiday Garland (Holidash)
Christmas Decorating with Celebrity Brooke Burke (ShelterPop)

  • Michelle

    What a couple of great products Http:// I have problems with both those situations every holiday season.

  • Steve

    I hang Christmas lights every year and sometime I have problems with them . But I don't think I would buy that thing .

  • Layne

    I like using white decorative lights year around as nice "mood-like" lighting. I can't believe this tool though for jolting the lights with a squeeze of the trigger or whatever. The things companies try to get us to spend money on. For smart money spending tips and coupons, check out Http://

  • maxlxii

    Where can you find "speciality lights" that had running, fading, etc that have not been available for a couple years?

  • Bird

    %&&@)@@*%#$.....that's all I have to say about Christmas lights and frickin' burned out bulbs.

  • Charlotte

    We have a prelit Christmas tree. Two rings were not lighting.
    My husband bought this item and was able to find the bad bulb. This is a super product! These engineers are geniuses. No more profanity at Christmas tree trimming time!

  • oh amanda

    Thanks for linking to my Christmas lights post. I promise wrapping your lights this way will change your Christmas-decorating-life!

  • 7 Comments / 1 Pages

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