One of the most common electrical problems that homeowners face is dead outlets. It doesn't matter if you live in an ancient home or your property was just built last year, dead outlets happen in almost every house and for a number of reasons. Identifying why an electrical outlet is not working can shed light on if you can fix the outlet yourself or if you need a professional electrician for the job.
Troubleshooting an Electrical Outlet That Doesn’t Work
- Flip light switch: It seems too obvious, but this is a first troubleshooting technique. Some outlets are controlled by a switch on the wall. The purpose of this outlet was intended to allow you to plug in a lamp, turn it on, and then have the ability to control the lamp from the light switch. Try flipping a few switches to see if this makes outlet “hot” again.
2. Plug in other items: Test the outlet by plugging in multiple other items to the electrical outlet not working to make sure it’s not a broken device. If none of the devices power up, you can move on to other troubleshooting techniques.
3. Reset GFCI outlet: The law requires installation of a GFCI outlet (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) in any area of a home where there is a faucet or other water source near an outlet. This ultra-sensitive device is designed to protect against electrocution, but can be temperamental It will cut off electricity in an area in response to a power surge. First, make sure that there is no water in contact with your GFCI outlet before pressing the small rectangular “Reset” button.
4. Test other outlets: If the power did return to the outlet after resetting the GFCI outlet, test to see if other nearby outlets also lost power. If the other outlets are dead you’ll need to inspect the breaker panel.
5. Check circuit breaker panel: If the electricity cuts off from only a portion of the house, then this means a circuit breaker has been tripped. The circuit breaker is meant to detect excess current and stop the flow of power to different circuits in your home before damage occurs. If this occurs, first unplug everything from the problem outlet and turn off all appliances in the portion of the house to avoid overloading the circuit.
You will need to go to your breaker panel, which is typically located in a utility room or basement, and look at the different switches. Each breaker switch controls the power to a different circuit in the home. If a breaker flipped to the middle between “ON” and “OFF” then it has been triggered. Flip it to the “OFF” side first, and then flip it to the “ON” side. That will reset the breaker. Go back to the problem outlet and test it again.
6. Check for short circuit: A short circuit occurs when the flow of electricity is obstructed. A common example is if wires are accidentally in contact. This could potentially lead to a fire. If the breaker flips again after you’ve reset it and you don’t have anything plugged in, then leave the breaker “OFF” and call an electrician.
7. Check connection of electrical wiring: Loose connecting wires can cause an outlet to not give off electricity. Make sure the breaker to the outlet is switched “OFF” and then remove the faceplate from the outlet and the screws that hold the outlet in place. Pull the outlet a few inches out from the outlet box and check to make sure the ends of the wires that attach to the outlet are securely fastened beneath the outlet screws.
The black wire attaches to the gold screw on the side of the outlet, and the white wire connects to the silver screw on the other side. A copper or green wire attaches to the bottom of the outlet. If any of the wires have come loose, reattach them by positioning the wire beneath the corresponding screw and then tighten the screw securely to hold it in place.
8. Replace the outlet: Although rare, the outlet might be faulty if all other previous steps haven’t worked. An outlet can reach its useful life, burn out and quit functioning. Home wiring is complex and can be dangerous. Certified electricians are the best at locating signs of electrical problems at home. If the problem is still occurring then call a professional.
Remember that electrical repair can be dangerous, possibly resulting in shock, electrocution, or fire if you are unsure of what you’re doing. Call the John C. Flood at (202) 794-6179 or schedule service online.
A dead outlet doesn’t mean dead end.
A faulty outlet might be frustrating, but it’s not the end of the world. If you follow John C. Flood’s instructions on how to diagnose a dead outlet, you can save yourself money and a headache. Frequent electrical issues might be the result of a much larger, potentially dangerous, problem. An electrical inspection with the John C. Flood team can pinpoint faulty wiring and provide resolutions to keep your home safe, and functional.
It’s easy to fix an outlet giving you trouble, but regular electrical outlet inspections are important. If you have an electrical issue in Washington D.C. or Virginia, give the experienced electricians at John C. Flood a call at (202) 794-6179 or schedule service online.