Instructables
Picture of LED Christmas Light Repair
Christmas lights are a real nuisance to repair.  The hard part is finding the bulb that is burnt out and most people do this by trial and error.  If you have a string of LED lights that are of the non-replaceable type you may think all is lost.  But don't be too hasty.  What if you could find the problem LED and then repair the string.  Let me illuminate the solution.

You will need some tools that most people who tinker with electricity will have.
 
Remove these adsRemove these ads by Signing Up

Step 1: WARNING

Picture of WARNING
The following involves working with electricity.  Electricity can kill you if you don't know what you are doing.  So if you are not qualified to repair devices that require electricity then don't attempt the following repair.  If you do follow these instructions then you take full responsibility for getting electrocuted  - which as mentioned previously can kill you - or for any other risks associated with the activity outlined in this set of instructions.

For example, if you burn yourself with the soldering iron that is your fault.  If you get lead poisoning from eating the lead solder this is you fault.  If you burn down your house because you did not insulate your repair properly this is your fault.  If your spouse whacks you with the rolling pin because you destroyed his/her Christmas lights guess what - your fault.

Step 2: Tools and Materials Required

Picture of Tools and Materials Required
The tools needed are:
Voltage Detector (see picture for example)
Soldering Iron
Solder
Heat Shrink Tube
Wire Cutters
Wire Strippers
bpellerin7 hours ago

Good work. I like knowing the diffence in mA by measuring the current before and after removing the blub.

I see this was posted a few years ago and I wonder if the technology has changed a bit. I followed the method but it was very misleading with the voltage sensor seeming to beep everywhere. Finally I thought I found the light that had voltage on one side and what seemed like a lower voltage on the other side. I cut it out and spliced the wires and now the half string that was out glows dimly.

I bought a new set with replaceable LEDs and took one out. The whole half string goes out. Then I went along as suggested but even knowing where the "bad bulb" was there seemed to be voltage everywhere. If an LED fails and you don't know which one it is and there's no test, replaceable LEDs seem pointless.

Anyone having success finding and fixing LEDs? Actually I had one success. The squirrels chewed out about four lights and when spliced the rest lit up OK.

AlanM57 days ago

Hi, I have recently bought 2 sets of outdoor led net lights as part of my christmas display, after about a week 1 line of leds stopped working then eventually only a couple of lines of lights are working, the rest are either out completely or very dull. The sets are 6mx2m and multi-coloured, any advice or help would be greatly appreciated, thanks

paulgol9 days ago

Finally a very good explanation for led users. This is of great help, nice job.

When you say LED, are you referring to the newest strings of lights out there, or just the lower wattage mini lights that have been available for a long time? For someone who went through 2 of 5 semesters of Digital Electronics Tech 10 years ago, I have forgotten just about everything. I saw a video a while back that said some lights have a third wire, and that wire can be snipped out without any problem.

terzyans14 days ago

I like the idea of finding the faulty LED. But It is a little strange that taking out one of 36 LEDs will increase the current that much. If you have 36 LEDs in series and each has an inner resistance of R then the current flowing will be I=U/36R. For resistance R=U/36I. Now if we have 110V and 9ma or 0.009A in normal part, then R=110/0.324=340 ohms. So each LED has a 340ohm resistance. If you shorten one LED we will have 35 LEDs with total resistance of 11900 and the resulting current will be 9.2ma but not 12. Something must be wrong in conclusions or LEDs are connected in groups or something else.

Simon

That's not the way LEDs work. An LED has a "forward voltage" that is about 4 for blue/green, and 1.5 for red. This voltage changes little with current. Built into the light string are resistors, which in total are way smaller than the formula you give (typically at least 4 times smaller. If this were not true, the string would be inefficient, as the LED voltage is the one that absorbs energy from the line, and makes light). The energy absorbed by the resistors only ends up as heat, but the resistors are needed to "ballast" (control) the current.

I can't imagine the voltage detector scheme working, as where you show probing, there are multiple wires in most strings, giving confusing readings. It is better to probe on the wire going right to the socket. For LEDs with small lenses, you can probe right on the lens. The bad LED will show different voltages between the wires going to its socket.

For whose without voltage detectors, you can use an oscilloscope set on high gain. If you don't have that either, use an audio amplifier with a magnetic mike input, and probe with the "hot" mike wire, unshielded at the probe point. Put a speaker on the output and listen to the loudness of the hum. It may help in any of the schemes to reverse the power plug so the wires near the bad LED are nearer the "hot" end of the line.

The voltage drop in LEDs make all these schemes more difficult than when testing incandescent sets.

Never use a "zapper" sold for repairing light sets on LED sets! Especially blue LEDs are sensitive to static discharge.

Yes, I agree. I tried to give a rough estimate. If we go by voltage drop then on each LED we will have only 110x1.4/36= 4.28. May be a little less because of resistors. If we have 35 LED then we will have 4.4 V. I do not think this will increase the current that much, especially with ballast resistors.

Simon

Joefer14 days ago

Hello Mr. Author! I think it might also be very helpful of you if you could also post a similar ible without using a non-contact voltage detector. I've checked our local stores and can't seem to find them. Would the use of a conventional multimeter be such a pain? I'm one of those novice tinkerers and figured an ible for such would help us improve a lot :)

Nealva61 Joefer13 days ago

You should be able to find a non-contact voltage detector at Sears, Home Depot, Lowe's or even Radio Shack. Look in the area with the mutlimeters or the electrical supplies.

Joefer Nealva6113 days ago

thanks good sir,. but i'm in the Philippines and sad to say i have limited options :-/

Taranach Joefer12 days ago

You may need to go to an electrical supplier... however many websites have these things as well... for example:

http://www.dx.com/c/electrical-tools-499/hand-tool... has several and shipping is free to the Phillipines...

CEVMarauder13 days ago

For anyone scared to attempt this because electricity is *scary*, relax. 120V can kill you, sure--hell, 1v can kill you, but it's all about the amperage and cross-the-body(heart) shock, at least at the relatively low amperages most people will work with. Lucky for you, you have a nice 2000ohm covering protecting you. It's called skin. Remember, electricity always takes the path of least resistance--given the choice between a nice copper wire, and your sweaty, nervous skin, it'll take the wire every time.

The most you can realistically expect to get if you were to touch the bare wires of this in such a way that current manages to flow is a little zap that scares you more than anything. Don't go stripping live 60 amp wires with your teeth while standing in a saltwater pool and you'll be fine.

Thanks for the 'ible, man. Nicely done.

Joefer14 days ago

THANK YOU!!! time to buy a Voltage Detector.

nakutnij14 days ago

thank you thank you thank you. Does this apply to old non-LED lights as well?

By the way my LED strings come with replacement bulbs.

kaizenbob (author)  nakutnij14 days ago
Absolutely.
bighathi14 days ago

Using a LED from a set that no longer works, I replace the burnt out LED on the newer set so there is no problem with the current. I just cut the LED with the wires from the old set and use the heat shrink tubing to join it in to the new set making sure that the + and - are the same.

Good Instructable.

Thanks for the tip. A short cut is to jam aluminum foil in the socket of the defective bulb; God forbid we would actually change the bulb. People will still throw out the $3 string. I leave all of my ornaments and light on the tree when I dispose of it. Now that is a cost savings!

gdombroski14 days ago

There are some rare sets that have the LED as a replaceable device. But YOUR method is sure the thing to locate the problem. The voltage detector should detect all the HOT wires right up to the defective LED.

Kudos to you!

Gerry

MT114 days ago

How about soldering in a resister to make both legs current match?

Or soldering in a new LED?

Just need a little math to find the right value LED. ( colors must be the same, or matching resister used for proper voltage)

MarthaV1 month ago

Thanks for your instructable! it looks too difficult for a housewife afraid of electricity though ... :(

PeteM12 months ago

Even though it seems all pretty easy and the directions are clear and easy to follow, I could not repair my lights. Weirdly yet, my friend who runs a local computer service in the Broch was able to quickly repair the chain for me - it looks like it's better to trust electronically minded people rather than attempt repairs on your own. On MY own at least :D

kewrw281 year ago
Wow! Now that's using your head. Very, very informative! Thank You!
ringai2 years ago
I think that maybe soldering the LED's leads together might keep the current draw lower by keeping the current limiting resistor in the circuit. If you dremel off the cap, you might be able to tack in a replacement for the dead LED, too.

Biggsy2 years ago
Brilliant, i'm all for made do and mend. So much so i made sure all my scouts know how to change a plug and fix a broken wire... it's these sorts of life skills that will save a fortune... and the planet too i guess ;)
Phil B2 years ago
Thank you. Just last week I used one of the voltage detectors like you show to check for the correct polarity on some wall outlets I had to replace at my daughter's house. I wondered if they would work on Christmas tree light strings, too. You answered that.