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My Christmas Lights Aren’t Working But the Fuses Are Good

a string of christmas lights

Ah, ‘tis the season! Pretty packages, mistletoe and the aroma of cider. And, of course, the annual untangling and testing of last year’s snarl of Christmas lights.

As usual, you’re probably going to find a few burnt-out bulbs, half-lighting strands and possibly even a string or two that don’t light up at all.

What to do?

Run to the store and brave the crazed holiday crowds to buy even more lights? Learn to live with the dead spots in your otherwise perfectly decorated tree or home? Risk electrocution by trying to fix them yourself?

Every year, millions of holiday homeowners ask themselves these questions while trying to complete their Christmas decorating to-do list.

Before you decide, let’s take a look at some of the common reasons why single or multiple Christmas lights might not be working even if the fuses are good.

Why Aren’t My Christmas Lights Working?

The first step to answering the question, “Why aren’t my Christmas lights working?” is to look closely at the actual string of lights. Once the strands have been unwound or untangled and laid out straight, do a visual inspection of each one, looking for cracks or damage to the insulation, frayed spots or exposed wires.

Be sure to check where the wire connects to the plug, too, as well as make sure that the power plug itself has no visible damage.

Discard any strings of lights that have visible damage. It’s not worth the fire risk to play around with messed-up wiring.

If the wires don’t seem to be the problem, move on to the bulbs themselves.

All of My Lights Work Except One or Two!

If it’s just a bulb or two that’s burned out, and the rest of the string lights up fine, you’re in luck. All you need to do is swap out the bad bulbs for new ones, and your illumination issues should solve themselves.

When buying new lights, pick up an extra strand of the same model to keep around for replacement bulbs. This can save you several trips to the store for individual swap-outs over the life of the sets you’re using.

Sometimes a bulb isn’t burnt out at all; it’s just come loose from the socket, and lost connection to its power source. If a bulb seems wiggly, or you suspect that it’s loose, try pushing it a little more firmly into its light socket and see if that does the trick.

What To Do

As tempting as it may be, don’t ignore one or two burnt-out lights, even on a long strand where they’re not as noticeable. Leaving non-functioning bulbs in a daisy chain of working lights can increase the electrical load on the remaining bulbs. This shortens the lifespan of the over-stressed bulbs as well as the fuse.

Also, never pull a bulb and leave an empty socket on a light string that’s plugged into an electrical source. Dry needles or other decoration materials could get wedged into the socket, creating a fire danger.

If you’re pretty certain that the bulb is kaput, use a bulb remover to pull it without damaging the socket. Then test the socket with a voltage detector, and, if the socket has power, put in a new bulb.

If you have more than one burnt-out light, be sure to start your replacements with the faulty bulb nearest the power supply. If starting elsewhere in the strand, a previous burn-out can affect the power supply to the remaining bulbs.

In the case that several of the lights on your string are out, but several others are working fine, it’s almost always a burnt-out bulb that’s at fault.

Test each bulb by giving it a wiggle, starting at the bulb nearest the plug, to make sure none of them are loose. Then, if a bulb flickers but won’t stay on, one of its plug-in filaments is likely broken or damaged, and you need to replace the bulb.

Finally, if none of the bulbs flicker, exchange the first unit bulb with a new one. If nothing happens, swap the old bulb back in, and move on to the next non-functioning bulb. Repeat until you find the one that’s breaking the flow of power.

You’ll know you’ve found it if it’s a bulb issue when the entire string lights back up.

Nope, The Whole Strand is Out!

So, what about when none of the lights on a string will light up?

There are several possible issues here, and several steps to check in order:

  1. Check that the outlet has power.
  2. Look for a loose or broken bulb(s).
  3. Despite your original thought, the fuse is bad. Try switching out the fuse for a new one. If that doesn’t fix it, swap it back in.

To replace a fuse:

  1. Unplug the light string from the outlet and locate the fuse case on the light string.
  2. Using a small flathead screwdriver, remove the fuse cover.
  3. Apply gentle pressure to pop out the old fuse.
  4. Place the new fuse in the socket, pressing gently to ensure it’s properly seated, and then replace the fuse case cover.
  5. Plug in the string to test.

You can find replacement fuses at most hardware stores, or stores that carry Christmas lights. Buy a couple of extras, just in case.

If a fuse goes out again in that same string of lights or if your Christmas lights keep blowing a fuse, there’s probably an issue with the wiring or other hardware components themselves. You are probably better off just tossing that string and replacing it.

christmas lights on a house

Can You Leave Christmas Lights On All Night?

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) doesn’t recommend leaving your Christmas lights on overnight.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t leave your lights on. Out of an abundance of caution, it’s recommended to turn them off.
Outdoor lights, because they tend to be more sturdy, pose less of a risk, but fire safety experts still recommend turning them off when you go to bed. If this is a hassle, or hard to remember, consider investing in an electrical switch timer that you can set to turn your lights on and off at whatever hours you want.
For light strings, extension cords, switch timers or anything else that uses electricity, make sure that you’re only using those designed for outdoor use outdoors, and indoor use indoors! These items are designed and tested for specific environmental conditions. You cannot assume that they work properly, or safely, in the wrong environment.
christmas lights on a roof

Can Christmas Lights Catch On Fire?

U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 160 home fires each holiday season from 2014 to 2018. They averaged 14 related injuries, 2 deaths, and property damage exceeding $10 million.
The fact is that Christmas lights themselves rarely catch fire. For your Christmas lights to truly present a hazard, there typically needs to be some other factor(s) involved.
The number one cause of Christmas light-related fires isn’t the lights at all. It’s plugging too many items, or power strips, into single outlets and overloading them. Decorations are pretty to look at, but not so pretty as to justify risking your family and home. Stick with one item per outlet plug.
Frayed electrical cords or exposed wires in electrical cords are other major factors. The use of inferior lights, and using indoor or outdoor lights in the wrong setting are other big factors.
If you’re concerned about the risk of fire, keep in mind that LED lights usually create less heat and fire risks than other kinds of lights.

Tips for Hanging Lights Safely

As convenient as it may be when creating your holiday light display, don’t run your light strings through windows or doorframes. This can crimp your strands and lead to fraying and exposed wires, increasing fire danger.
As long as you’re running around the house with a ladder and tools, this is a great time to test your smoke alarms and install fresh batteries in them. Fire experts also recommend maintaining fire extinguishers on each floor of your home.
Issues with Christmas decorations and lights can strip the joy out of your holiday fun. Even when they work smoothly, hauling them out of storage, testing them and getting them set up can be a pain.
Did you know that you can hire a professional to do all that?
A holiday lighting specialist can ensure that your lights are set up correctly, and they’re experts on hanging Christmas lights from gutters. Most importantly, a professional will ensure your home and family are safe.
Take the stress out of your holiday this year by hiring a professional. They can design, install, maintain, take down and put away your holiday décor.
Then, you can just sit back and enjoy the pretty lights, and maybe a cookie.

ABC Can Get Your Home Ready for the Holidays

With everything going on this holiday season, you would probably rather be attending a fun event than hanging your holiday lights. Fortunately, ABC Home & Commercial Services is here for you. We can come to hang your lights and then take them down once the holiday season is over.

J Zambo

J Zambo joined ABC in 2023 with over 20 years of experience. He is the Lawn & Tree Division Manager, overseeing Lawn Maintenance and Care, Landscaping, Tree and Holiday Lighting for all ABC Austin branches. Before ABC, he was the Vice President of Aloha Arbor Care and Hawaii Landscape Services. J is an ISA Certified Arborist and ISA Qualified Tree Risk Assessor. His favorite quote is “So shines a good deed in a weary world” by Willie Wonka.

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