Ensure that all of your indoor and outdoor bulbs—including those old-school sets—stay in top condition for years to come.

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winter LED lights bright tree outside
Credit: Frederic Lagrange

The holidays are a time when all is merry and bright, a sentiment the lights you string onto your Christmas tree or along home's exterior physicalizes. If you have old-school sets, however, some special care is needed: Don't yank them off your tree or house, says Frank Skinner, the director of marketing at Christmas Lights Etc., and avoid using fasteners that might pierce the wiring. Should you encounter a few burnt-out bulbs, try the LightKeeper Pro (from $27, acehardware.com), a gadget that quickly—and miraculously—fixes a shunt issue behind many seemingly dead bulbs.

If that doesn't work, unplug the lights and swap the duds for new bulbs of the same specs (look for those on a tag on the strand); most sets come with extras, but you can also find replacements on Amazon, Skinner says. If you need new lights, go with LEDs. "Traditional strands work for only about two to three holiday seasons," says Lance Allen, a decorative holiday merchant at The Home Depot. "LEDs can last up to 10 times longer." Plus, there are no filaments to shake loose, and the exteriors are acrylic, not glass. When storing strands, prevent snarls (and protect bulbs) by wrapping each around a cardboard rectangle with one-inch slits cut into the top and bottom.

Keep an eye on certain parts of your lights during the holiday season, too. "Sometimes, only one section of the light strand will go out, which makes it easy to locate the problem bulb. However, if the entire string of lights is out, you will need to check every bulb," says Mark Dawson, the chief operating officer at Mister Sparky. Once you find the bulb that's out, replace it. "If the lights still don't work, it might be an issue with a corroded terminal, which delivers the charge to make it light up," he says. "Finding a bad terminal is the same process as finding a bad bulb—you have to take every bulb out and look into the terminal to check for corrosion, which you can easily clean out with a small brush or Q-Tip."

When fixing icicle lights, check that the outlet you're using is supplying power. "You can do this by removing the extension cord and plugging in something else that will verify that it is receiving electricity," says Dawson. "Next, find the icicle strand farthest from the outlet and unplug it to see if the rest of the strands light up." If the lights do ignite, he recommends removing the faulty strand to allow the others to function. "Move down the line of strands and keep repeating this process, as well as checking each bulb to find the issue," he adds.

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