You plug in your phone and find your outlet not working. What can you do to fix the problem?
When your outlet doesn’t work, it can significantly impact your day. It could be that you can’t charge your phone and be ready for work. Or that you’re unable to plug in the toaster and make breakfast for the family.
Whatever the case, an outlet that doesn’t work can be frustrating. In this article, we take a look at how you can troubleshoot the problem on your own and when you need to contact a professional to help fix the issue.
Outlet Not Working? Try These Fixes
If you’re unable to explain why your outlet isn’t working, take the time to learn the steps required to analyze the area and find the correct solution. First, we’ll explore the terminology.
The vertical outlet slots are shutters, while the small holes beneath the shutters are the ground. Many older homes don’t have a third ground hole and only have the two vertical shutters for two-prong plugs.
This design will be helpful to keep in mind when reviewing the reasons why your outlet isn’t working. There are several troubleshooting steps you can take when your outlet is malfunctioning.
1. Try a Light Switch
Try flipping a light switch on to determine if you have a half-hot outlet. The purpose of a half-hot outlet is to allow a homeowner to plug in a lamp and turn it on from a separate light switch.
You might have a wall switch in the home that seemingly doesn’t have a purpose. This switch usually connects to a half-hot outlet. Flip the wall switch, and try the outlet again. You might find the outlet suddenly has power.
2. Reset GFCI Outlets
GFCIs (ground-fault circuit interrupters) prevent electrical shocks and interrupt the flow of electricity. They help minimize the risk of injuries associated with electrical work near showers and baths. When a GFCI detects an electrical surge that results from a connection between electricity and water, the system shuts off.
Unfortunately, GFCI technology can also shut off when other debris, such as dust, gets into the system. So it might be that your GFCI outlet shut itself off and needs to reset. You’ll notice a small rectangular button in the center of the outlet if it’s a GFCI system.
Press the button to reset the outlet.
Pressing this button will often return the flow of electricity to the outlet and allow you to again plug in your items.
3. Check Nearby Outlets
When you lose power to one outlet in the home, you’ll likely lose power to other nearby outlets. Take the time to check the other outlets in the building to ensure they are working.
Start by plugging in the same appliance you were using on the potentially faulty outlet.
Restarting it will help you determine if the problem is because of the outlet or the electrical system itself. If you find that other outlets aren’t working, it might be time to inspect the breaker panel.
4. Check the Breaker Panel
So you tried the nearby outlets and checked for a GFCI disconnection. Now it’s time to review the central connection hub for your home ‒ the breaker panel. These panels could be in your basement or a utility room within the property.
Inside the breaker panel, you’ll find multiple switches, which are also called breakers. Each switch controls the power to a different part of your home.
Open the panel door to the breakers. You’ll notice one or two rows; one side of the panel will be off and one side will be on. If a breaker flips, you’ll see that it’s now in the middle ‒ neither off nor on.
To reset the breaker, place it in the off position and then switch it on the opposite side. This action will reset the breaker. You can then return to the problem outlet and determine if resetting the breaker turned the power back on to the area.
Ensure that you don’t accidentally move a switch, and if you do happen to switch a breaker on or off, remember which one you moved.
5. Review Plugs If Power Was Restored
If the power returned to the outlet after resetting the breaker, you likely overloaded the circuit by having too many items plugged into one area.
This issue can occur if you plug too many high-power-demand items into an outlet or extension cord. Especially if you have an older home built well before the advent of the latest technology. Heat generating appliances such as computers are a leading cause of overloaded circuits.
Now that you restored power and reset the breaker, remove some of the kitchen appliances from the area. Then place them in places throughout your home where you don’t often use the outlets.
Things to Consider
Analyzing an outlet failure is not a straightforward process, so consider the following if you are taking on the analysis process:
- Call a specialist when you have a safety concern.
- Remember to use proper safety equipment when working with plugs.
- Block off the area to children and pets while you assess the issue.
- Don’t try to jam the plug into the outlet. Doing so could damage your home and your connected appliance.
- Watch for unusually warm or unusually cold outlets, which could signify that the outlet is unsafe.
Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s explore some common questions you might consider when taking on outlet repair jobs at home.
Which Items Most Commonly Trip the Circuit Breaker?
In general, the items that cause a break in the circuit and a disconnection to the outlet are heat-producing appliances. Hairdryers and irons are commonly known to trip circuits and cause a loss of power in the home.
Why Does the Breaker Panel Keep Tripping?
If you tried plugging in your appliances to different outlets throughout your home, and your breaker panel is still tripping while your home is still losing power, it could be that you have a short circuit.
This circuit problem occurs when electricity strays from its established path. It could also point to a fault in the ground connection, or the ground and hot wire are connected, causing an overload.
Why Does the Outlet Spark When I Plug In an Appliance?
This spark is a different issue from a non-operational outlet. It could be that the outlet is short-circuiting, allowing electricity to flow unsafely directly to the connection point. Short circuits break down wire insulation and are exceptionally dangerous.
When to Call an Electrician
Electrical issues in the home must be dealt with by a professional who has decades of experience in electrical repair. If you tried the steps outlined above and tested the breakers, but the connection to the outlet is still not re-established, it’s time to bring in an expert to deal with the problem.
Below are several reasons why you should call a professional to repair your home outlets.
Faulty Outlets Are a Danger to Your Family
You might be able to fix the issue for a short time. But if you notice the problem recurring, you should contact a professional to keep your family safe.
Electrical issues are one of the leading causes of fires in the family home. The second leading cause of house fires in the United States from 2012-16 was electrical failure or malfunction. The blazes resulting from these issues accounted for 13% of home fires.
Some also resulted in death or major property damage. A recurring electrical problem with an outlet is a clear sign there’s an issue with the underlying electrical structure in the property.
Getting assistance from a professional is the best way to diagnose the problem and fix it.
Professionals Have Safety Equipment
Local professionals have all the required safety equipment to work with electricity in the family home. They have the industry-recommended gloves and safety glasses.
They studied electrical components throughout several years and know the signs of impending danger. They can react quickly when unsafe conditions occur during an electrical repair job.
You Can Save Money
One of the leading reasons to bring in a professional to resolve your outlet issue is to save money. You might waste hours of your valuable time trying to diagnose the problem, only to find the issue recurs in the future. You might also cause costly damage to your home when you try to repair the outlet by yourself.
Professionals likely completed thousands of similar repairs in the past. They know the protocols to follow and can diagnose and fix the issue quickly.
Safely Fixing an Outlet That’s Not Working
Now that you know the steps to take when you have a faulty outlet, you can ensure you react promptly and effectively to the issue.
Remember: Take a moment to call a local professional if you’re unsure of any step in the process. Safety should be the number 1 consideration when it comes to all electrical repairs.