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Every year I do Christmas lights I run into the same issue over and over...and I'm just tired of it! :(...It's probably due to the fact that I am electricity stupid - I just don't know enough about electricity to know why this is happening. In any event I cannot understand how others deck their entire house, bushes, and every other thing on their lot with lights and I cannot seem to do the basics.

Here's my issue...I've got non led (I know I should invest in getting LED but I haven't yet) Christmas lights in the form of nets, which are basically the same as just the string of lights however they come in the form or shape of say a checker board all tied together. I also have just some regular lights...all in all we are talking about 30-40 lights across my bushes and in my trees.

I have one of those devices that come with a remote that allow you to sit in your house and press a number (1-3) to turn on the bulbs. Great so I start by placing the item number 1 "Remote Control Plug" into my main outdoor electrical socket, that way I can hook up a surge protector directly to it allowing me to simply press my #1 remote and all turns on. Fine, I add about 3-4 extension cords to my surge protector each piggy backing about 3-5 light sets. This is a GFCI outlet by the way that goes back to my basement. Then I take another remote control plug and place it in another electrical outlet in my garage (#2 this time) that way all I have to do is press 1 then press 2 and bam all my lights go on.

I run a heavy duty extension cord (pretty thick) from my garage under the garage door back outside to about 5 lights that piggy back each other, as well as another extension cord to support 3-4 more. Note this one doesnt have a surge protector as I dont really need one here.

Great 2-3 hours later I am done and I turn on my lights an all looks well...go back inside and within 10-15 minutes I'll look outside and either #1's set are all turned off or sometimes #2's sets are all turned off, other times both. I havent blown any fuses and I Dont even have to look at my circuit box. Sometimes the reset in my surge protector has been suddenly clicked off, forcing me to turn it off and back on and the lights go on again. Other times I Just use my remote and turn them back on...

Am I just using too many lights? I decided to head over to home depot and the representative tells me ahh I know your issue. Get rid of #1 and #2 and plug your surge directly to your outlet for one, and plug your heavy duty extension cord to your garage outlet for #2. This eliminates the cool I am inside a warm toasty house and can turn on the christmas lights from my house. I thought fine Ill open my front door and flip the switch to turn on my power strip, then Ill go to the garage and plug in my heavy duty extension cord and all is well. Within 10 - 15 minutes again they are off with the power supply reset switched flipped off again!

So that doesn't appear to help...what gives and what can I do to keep my house blinging with christmas lights?

  • 1
    It sounds to me that you have multiple issues going on here. Circuits that aren't big enough to handle the load, plugging too many things into one circuit (your outlets might be on same circuit), and then you might have some crappy/faulty surge protectors. Can you tell us what circuits your lights are on? How many circuits do you have in your box? What else is on those circuits? (I had same issue at old house and actually plugged most things into washer hookup which I manually connected every night) – DMoore Nov 25 '14 at 17:40
  • @DMoore I will definately let you know, my issue is I dont know enough about circuitry to answer these questions. How can I tell if they are on the same circuit? – JonH Nov 25 '14 at 17:42
  • easiest way is to turn off circuit and see what doesn't work. I actually suggest that everyone map out all of their outlets in their house. If you have a person or two to help you out it takes an hour or two. I keep all of my stuff in Excel but a sheet of paper is fine. – DMoore Nov 25 '14 at 17:49
  • Okay does this mean all the circuit breakers in the fuse box? If so that is good because most of that stuff is labeled, for instance Kitchen, Dryer Room, etc. so I can look for maybe something that says "Other" or "Outside" ? Maybe turning those ones off and seeing if I plug in a set of lights in either of those electrical outlets? If I plug in something in both and they both dont light up the lights I can then assume its on the same circuit. Is that a valid test? – JonH Nov 25 '14 at 17:50
  • Yes just turn fuse off or unscrew if old type. Then see what is off/on. – DMoore Nov 25 '14 at 17:56
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It sounds like you are right at the current limit for your power strips and your remote control switches. If you look at the plugs of the lights, you should see a rating that says how many Amps it uses. Add all of those up, and make sure you're not exceeding 80% of the rating on your power strip or your remote control switch. So if your power strip says 15 Amps, then make sure your lights don't add up to more than 12 Amps.

  • Lets say they do add up more to what my power strip says, would I just need to look for a better power strip? Can you recommend one? I've got one of those al cheapo's from wal mart that was like 10 bucks, plain white holds about 6-7 plugs. – JonH Nov 25 '14 at 18:02
  • Most every power strip is 15 Amps. You will just have to get a second one and use another remote control thing, is that is also rated for 15 Amps. – longneck Nov 25 '14 at 18:03
  • Also, it's likely that whatever circuit you are plugging in to is rated for 15 or 20 Amps total. Follow DMoore's advice and identify the circuits. Make sure you don't exceed the capabilities of the circuit. – longneck Nov 25 '14 at 18:04
  • Wait let me get this straight, my issue would be resolved (maybe) had I just plugged in 2 power strips and putting say instead of 4 plugs into one just 2 into one and 2 into the other? This seems odd, arent you still pulling the same amount of electricity? – JonH Nov 25 '14 at 18:04
  • Yes, you are pulling the same amount of TOTAL current, but you're splitting it between two different devices. So if you were right at 15 Amps before, splitting the load means you are now only pulling 7.5 Amps through a single power strip. – longneck Nov 25 '14 at 19:14
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Definitely sounds like you're simply drawing too much current (or probably right on the edge, which is why it doesn't trip immediately). Most residential circuits have 15A breakers (which can actually only support 12A continuously -- more detail below). In addition, the remote switch you're using will have a maximum current rating (could be eg 10A).

Finding current draw

You need to find the current draw of your lights, which should be on a tag like this:

enter image description here

Add all of them up, and you'll know how much you're using.

Alternative: Measure current draw

You can also use a clamp-on ammeter (usually as part of a multimeter, like the one below) to simply measure the current draw.

enter image description here

It'll only measure what's downstream of where you connect it, of course. To use it, put the clamps around one of the conductors in the strand that makes up the lights (christmas lights are handy that way). You may have to measure multiple strands and add them up.

enter image description here

Bonus, having a multi-meter is one of the basic around-the-house tools any homeowner should have anyway (for everything from diagnosing simple electrical problems to testing batteries).

Fix

Note that you shouldn't exceed 80% of a circuit, so you should have max 12A on a 15A breaker.

Most circuit breakers are "80% rated", which means they can support spikes to 100% of their load, but only 80% continuously (where continuous is defined as three hours or more). More detail: http://ecmweb.com/basics/sizing-circuit-breaker

You have basically two options: add an additional circuit (or two), or reduce the current draw.

LED lights have significantly lower current draw.

Lower current also means lower electricity bills, if that's a concern.

  • Okay I will definitely take a look...issue is its so cold outside so Im going to have to definitely do this. Thanks so much. – JonH Nov 25 '14 at 18:06
  • Why shouldn't you exceed 80% of a circuit? – Tester101 Nov 25 '14 at 18:10
  • @Tester101 Updated. Feel free to edit in specific NEC citations if you like :) – gregmac Nov 25 '14 at 18:17
  • Sounds like gregmac may be right it just might be drawing too much, as it doesn't happen right away... – JonH Nov 25 '14 at 18:23
  • I'm against the "80% rule", as I think it's misunderstood and overly used. – Tester101 Nov 25 '14 at 18:37
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Basically you have some options, some easier, some harder to implement.

  1. Get lights that take less power. This could be very costly but maybe you make the money up in energy savings over time. However I hate the look of the LED lights and love the vintage stuff so I have a hard time suggesting this.

  2. Use less lights. I have a hard time suggesting this too. It is almost impossible to have too many lights up.

  3. Distribute light load across many circuits. This takes some planning and some unique usage of extension cords but can be done. You map out the outlets to circuits in your house and distribute lights.

  4. Have a new circuit install for your outdoor lights. Depending on your box configuration this might not be as hard as you think. If you have openings in your box you can often drill out right by where box is located to the outside. Might cost a few hundred but its a big upgrade.

  5. Use a larger circuit for this. As I stated in comments I once used my wash machine's outlet with extension cords to handle this. Your oven or wash machine will be on a larger rated circuit. If you unplug oven or wash machine during light usage time this is fine. You cannot do lights and run major appliance at same time though.

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