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Half of My Christmas Lights Aren’t Working

a string of Christmas lights

Decking the halls for the Christmas season fills many people with excitement for the coming celebrations. A huge part of the decorating ritual every year includes festive lights on the exterior of your home. Sometimes when you flip the switch, the twinkle looks a little unbalanced. Or when you pull last year’s spools of shining glory out of storage, half of the lights aren’t ready to shine.

What’s next? The first step is to always plug in your lights and check for issues before you hang them for decorating. You don’t want to hang your lights only to find they need to come right off! If you do have issues, your choices are to try to fix the lights yourself or contact a professional who can bring new LED lights for you and hang them up. Let’s troubleshoot some potential causes for the outage.

Troubleshooting Your Christmas Lights

First off, one of the strand’s light bulbs might have popped out of its socket or is partially out of the socket and might have crashed the circuit. If your string of lights has 50 bulbs or more, which is the vast majority of the strings, it works by using two or more continuous circuits.

If one bulb is missing or not connected, the bulbs in the same series on the same circuit will all go out. Bulbs on any other circuit in the string should still stay on in this scenario. Just having one of the bulbs burned out shouldn’t affect others on its circuit, however. Only if the bulb has disconnected or is missing entirely would there be an issue with more than just one bulb.

To check on this issue, take a good look at each bulb on the part of the string of lights that is out. Don’t remove and push each one back in because it can cause further issues. It also isn’t good for your hands! Take a look to see if a bulb in that part of the strand is not in place. If you see a spot where a bulb is completely missing, replace it with a new one (each strand should have come with a couple of extra, but you can always get replacements at stores). If it’s just loose, be gentle when you push it back into its proper spot. That ought to do the trick.

What To Do If Bulbs Have Blown Out

Another common cause for part of the lights going dark is when the light string’s rating has been exceeded and subsequently, the bulbs have blown out. The wire at the bulb’s base conducts electricity from bulb to bulb. If you see that some of the bulbs in the dark part look like smoke has collected inside, that is a tell-tale sign that too much power went through the lights.

In this case, look at the tag at the end of the light string. Then measure the rating against how many strands of lights you strung together. If your measurement exceeds the number on the string’s tag, the excess power is likely your issue.

If you know the rating, look at each bulb in the strand to check for any “smoky” bulbs and replace them. This might work, but sometimes when you put too many light strands into one series, the strands are permanently damaged and you will have to use new ones.

The solution: Check the rating of the light string and don’t plug in more lights than the manufacturer specifies. Visually check the part of the light string that is out and replace any smoked bulbs. Better safe than sorry!

So, if you have checked each bulb and they are all set correctly, and they aren’t smoked, your problem might be with the actual wiring harness. Specifically, there is likely a break in the strand circuit’s copper wire. Squirrels, age or the tugging that goes on when taking the lights down for the season can cause this type of damage. In this case, it’s time to use a new strand of lights.

A string of Christmas lights on a house

How To Tell If a Christmas Light Fuse is Blown

Many homeowners don’t realize that not only do those strands of holiday lights plug into your outlets, but they also have fuses. And like anything with fuses, they can blow out. In the case of light strands, the cause is generally stringing together too many in a row, all into the same outlet.

If only one section of your lights is out, that’s one thing. But if your entire strand goes out, the problem is likely a blown fuse. Most holiday lights have fuses in the plug end of the strand. That’s where you should go to check on the fuse or fuses.

Look at the plug end of the strand, and you will see a little “door” on one side. That is where you will find any fuses. You might have gotten an extra fuse or two when you bought the lights. If not, you can pick up replacements at home improvement and other stores, including auto parts stores. Make sure you bring a current fuse from the strand with you to get the right amp.

To get to the fuse, use a small, flat screwdriver to pry the little “door” open and to remove the fuse. Some light strands actually have a spare fuse inside the plug. If you notice there is one set of fuse contacts but two fuses in the plug, that means you are lucky enough to have a spare. You can move that spare out of the holding spot and into the side with the contacts. What you are looking for is metal-to-metal contact inside the plug.

Second Fuses

Some light strands need two fuses, so that second fuse isn’t a spare. In this case, check the contacts and ensure both fuses have them.

Also, some plugs have a different look inside. They might have two small “doors” instead of one, and you would need to check both of them to see if you need to replace just one or both. And other plug doors might have a very small screw in them to hold the door in place. With these, use a tiny screwdriver to remove and gain access.

Once you get the lights working again, check the ratings of the strings. Do not exceed that number by plugging too many lights into one long strand. If you do, you risk having Christmas lights that keep blowing their fuse.

Christmas lights on a roof

Can You Recycle Christmas Lights?

Once the season has ended and the decorations are coming down, you might be wondering what to do with lights that you know you won’t be using next year. This could be either because they don’t work anymore or you just want to buy new ones. Learn how to recycle Christmas lights below.

If the lights are still in working order, consider donating them to a thrift store or charity that could get use out of them. Tossing them in the trash adds unnecessary waste to landfills, and they aren’t generally appropriate to put in regular household recycling streams.

Any broken lights you might have also should be recycled instead of thrown in the trash. You can recycle any light strands at many recycling centers. Check the one nearest you to see if they take them. If you are unsure where the nearest site is, you can contact your regular solid waste service. Some do take old lights after the holidays and do the recycling for you. Just don’t toss them into your own collection bin! You can also search for Christmas Light Source online. This group receives old lights to recycle and then uses any proceeds to purchase things that are then donated to Toys for Tots.

Some hardware stores also collect old lights and then pass them on to the appropriate recyclers. In the past Home Depot, Ace Hardware and True Value have participated as drop-off points. Give your local hardware retailers a call to see if they are doing this.

After the holiday celebrations, use the tips here to keep the giving going, whether it’s recycling money for charity or a present for Mother Earth by keeping them out of landfills.

ABC Can Get Your Home Ready for the Holidays

We know that hanging your lights at the holidays is a daunting task. That’s why ABC Home & Commercial Services’ holiday lighting professionals are ready to bring your winter wonderland vision to life in your very own yard. We’ll wrap your trees, illuminate your eaves and deck your home with merry, twinkling lights! Best of all, once the holidays are over, we’ll come take them down again—no muss, no fuss.

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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