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How to Diagnose a Dead Electrical Outlet

woman plugging in a wire outlet

This scenario has happened to all of us: you plug a lamp into a wall outlet, but when you turn it on, nothing happens. You try again on another outlet, and suddenly it lights right up. What gives? You decide the problem must be with your electrical outlet.

While issues with electrical outlets are not uncommon, you don’t know for sure that the outlet is dead. Before assuming that the outlet will never work again, consider the following scenarios before coming to that conclusion.

You have a tripped circuit breaker

An overloaded circuit breaker shuts down electrical flow to the outlets connected to it when it is connected to too many appliances. Your other outlets may even still be working because houses can sometimes have multiple circuits, as well as multiple breakers.

To determine if your outlet’s malfunctioning has something to do with the circuit breaker, check your panel for any shut-down breakers. Carefully examine the knob, too; it isn’t always easy to determine exactly how a breaker has been tripped.

If your circuit breaker is regularly getting overloaded, you likely have a problem. Consult an electrician right away to solve the problem.

You have a blown fuse

If you have a blown fuse in your breaker box, then your outlets won’t work. You can tell if your fuse has blown if you see broken glass or a damaged filament within the fuse. You can often replace a blown fuse yourself, but if you have any concerns about matching fuses or finding a fuse replacement with the same amperage, schedule an electrician to solve your problem.

If you check your circuit breaker and discover that you still have a problem with your outlet, here are some other common issues that might be the cause:

Your GFCI outlet is malfunctioning

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) outlets—the kind with the "Test" and "Retest" buttons—automatically shut off if there is a leak in the electrical current. If you press the Test button and the Retest button doesn’t pop out, you might have a problem with power to the GFCI. Your outlet likely needs a repair.

Your outlet has flamed out

One of the most serious incidents that can kill an outlet is a burnout. Even if your outlet only experienced a brief flare, it may no longer work. Check for blackening around the plugs, and, of course, if you see sparks around your outlet, call your electrician immediately.

Your wires are loose or corroded

Problems with the wiring to your electrical outlet can make it malfunction. To check if this is the problem, your electrician will first turn off all the power in your home. Next, he or she will remove the outlet cover to see if wires are loose or bent at each screw terminal. Further, the electrician will determine if any of the wires are corroded. If either of these problems is found, he or she will replace the wiring to remedy the outlet’s function.

Your circuit’s contacts are loose, or the whole unit needs to be replaced

Especially in older homes, outlets can simply wear out and need to be replaced. Never try to replace outlets on your own; electric repair can be very dangerous if handled by someone without proper training.

Around 4,000 people are injured in electricity-related accidents each year in the United States. So, once you diagnose your problem, don’t try to fix it yourself. Instead, call in the professionals to safely repair your dead electrical outlets. Contact John C. Flood to schedule a repair of your dead electrical circuit right away.