Your holiday string lights are broken. Now what?

·2 min read
Fix your string lights, don't throw them out, say two Ottawa-area tinkerers. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC - image credit)
Fix your string lights, don't throw them out, say two Ottawa-area tinkerers. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC - image credit)

So your holiday string lights are half-lit, or shorted out entirely. Now what?

CBC's Hallie Cotnam faced this seasonal dilemma as she recently put up string lights she purchased last year. A large section of the lights didn't work.

"I was so frustrated because uncharacteristically, I had carefully restrung them onto their original roll," said Cotnam on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning. "There was no reason why they shouldn't work."

Cotnam contacted Ottawa's Premji Kerai who she describes as "an electrical wizard."

Kerai, a decades-long aircraft maintenance engineer with Transport Canada, told her fixing her lights isn't too difficult but takes a bit of patience.

"Christmas lights are wired in such a way [that] not many people are aware of it," he said.

After drawing complicated schematics for Cotnam showing how string lights are wired, Kerai simplified the problem: one dud light bulb can short a whole segment of the string lights, he said, so you have to find the glitched bulb.

Hallie Cotnam/CBC
Hallie Cotnam/CBC

"With this kind of connection, you have to remove each one, and either test it with a meter or remove one and put a known good one in it, then move on," he explained. "Keep on going until you find the right one."

That takes a lot of work, Premji admitted, especially if your string lights are on the longer side.

"Or I could throw it out and get new ones, and just eat the 50 bucks that I spent on them just last year," said Cotnam.

Hallie Cotnam/CBC
Hallie Cotnam/CBC

Be environmentally friendly

Cotnam reached out to nurse Jennifer Cleland, also a self-declared tinkerer, for a second opinion.

Cleland studied electrical engineering before switching professions, and now she offers to do the hard part of fixing your half-working string lights for a small price — and save them from going to the landfill.

I'm trying to set an example and show that it's possible to repair things instead. - Jennifer Cleland, String lights fixer

"I've seen it everywhere, especially in the hospital. There's so much waste," said Cleland, who lives in Petawawa, Ont.

"There's this general attitude nowadays where things are made cheaper, they break easier. You just throw 'em out and buy a new one. So I'm trying to set an example and show that it's possible to repair things instead."

Cleland charges $10 per string.

"I try to make it worth it for both of us — it's cheap enough that maybe you'll get it fixed instead of buying a new one, and it's a little extra change in my pocket."

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