Whether you’re discovering it after a long day at work or when your phone isn’t charged in the morning, finding out that your electrical outlet doesn’t work can cause worry. However, whether you’re a qualified electrician or not, there are some issues you can take care of yourself, but before fixing them, find out exactly why it’s not working.
It’s common to panic when you realize your electrical outlet isn’t working. Still, before you lose all hope and spend tons of money calling an electrician, try troubleshooting the problem yourself. There are some easy ways to resolve the issue, and calling for help before you know if it’s an easy fix may leave you with unnecessary costs.
Learn 6 reasons why an electrical outlet might not be working, how to test it and the easiest fixes.
6 Reasons an Electrical Outlet Doesn’t Work (And Fixes)
When it comes to electrical outlets, try a few simple fixes before calling an electrician. However, working with electricity is dangerous, so be sure to unplug all devices and electrical appliances from the dead outlet.
Before getting to work, remember to switch off the breaker from the main electrical panel.
#1: The Outlet Is Not The Problem
Often when we plug a device into an electrical outlet, only to see that the device is not charging or an electrical appliance is not working, there’s an immediate jump to the conclusion that the outlet must be dead. Before you panic, it is best to check a few things to ensure you know where the problem lies.
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How To Fix It
To ensure that it is the outlet that’s not working and not a fault with the device or appliance, plug another device or appliance into the outlet to check where the issue lies. If the second device or appliance works, the outlet is not the issue and the device or electrical appliance may be faulty.
#2: A Switch In Your Home Breaker Panel May Have Flipped
The switches within the breaker panel (often found in the basement or a utility room) control the power supply to different parts of a house. Sometimes, a breaker will flip by itself, cutting power to the area it is supposed to supply. Luckily for you, this is the easiest way to fix a dead outlet.
How To Fix It
Once you have located your breaker panel, open the panel door and assess the situation. You will see rows of switches with one side labeled “ON” and another labeled “OFF.” You usually see a flipped switch between the “ON” and “OFF” sides.
Flip the switch in the middle to the OFF side before flipping it back to the ON side, resetting the breaker. If this was the problem, the outlet will start working again.
#3: A GFCI Outlet May Have Tripped
GFCIs, or ground fault circuit interrupters, are required by building codes to be installed in any room where there is water, such as:
- laundry rooms
Before GFCIs, electrocutions and electric shock injuries were far more prevalent. As we all know, water and electricity do not make the best combination. If you want to know more about if GFCI outlets need to be tamper resistant, read my article here.
GFCI outlets were designed to minimize this hazard. As soon as it identifies a surge in electricity, it shuts off to prevent accidental electrocution. Unfortunately, sometimes a GFCI outlet can shut off even when there has not been a surge in electricity. Luckily, this is an easy fix.
How To Fix It
If a GFCI outlet has accidentally tripped, locate the outlet and press the tiny rectangular button in the outlet center, resetting the GFCI. To test whether the outlet is working, plug in a device and check if it charges.
#4: The Half-Hot Outlet Switch Is Not On
Some types of outlets, called lamp outlets or half-hot outlets, are controlled by a light switch on the wall. These outlets were designed to plug in lamps and control them using a standard light switch on the wall. The great news is that this is one of the most straightforward fixes.
How To Fix It
If a switch on the wall doesn’t appear to control anything, it may be connected to a half-hot outlet. Flip the button on the wall and check whether your outlet is working again.
#5: The Outlet May Have Loose Wires
If you have completed all the other steps to fix your outlet with no success, it may have loose wiring. If you are unfamiliar with electrical wires and feel uncomfortable checking for the problem, it is probably best to call an electrician.
How To Fix It
First, make sure that the breaker to the outlet is flipped to the OFF position. Then, use a screwdriver to remove the faceplate and screws from the outlet. Once these are handled, you can remove the outlet from the outlet box by a few inches.
- Ensure the ends of the wires that are attached to the outlet are fastened securely beneath the outlet screws.
- The white wire should link to the silver-colored screw on one side of the outlet, and the black wire should connect to the golden screw on the other side.
- A green or copper wire connects to the bottom of the outlet
- If you notice some loose wires, reconnect them by placing the wire under the corresponding screw and then fasten the screw to secure it in place.
#6: A Faulty Outlet Could Be The Problem
Although this is not the most common cause, occasionally an outlet may:
- burn out
- sustain damage
If you’ve tried all the previous troubleshooting, and the outlet still does not work, it may be time to replace it.
How To Fix It
Before starting, ensure that the breaker that powers the faulty outlet is flipped to the OFF position. Remove the outlet cover and disconnect the wires from the defective outlet using a screwdriver. Just reverse the entire process to install a new outlet and ensure the cables are connected correctly, as previously stated.
Is It Dangerous To Leave A Dead Outlet Unchecked?
While a dead outlet may not look like a cause for concern, especially if you do not regularly use that specific outlet, do not be tempted to save money by ignoring the problem.
Electrical issues can become deadly if they aren’t attended to correctly and on time. Left untreated, faulty outlets and loose wiring could cause dangerous house fires. You should always take electrical issues seriously to avoid risking your home and your life.
While some electrical outlet problems have simple fixes, do not ignore the significant issues. Call a qualified electrician immediately if you notice:
- any burning smells
- an outlet that looks discolored
- an outlet regularly gives off sparks
If the problem does not appear to be an easy fix, and you don’t have experience working with electrical wiring, do not attempt to fix the outlet yourself. This could lead to dangerous situations, and you may get electrocuted.
How To Test An Outlet Or Switch For Electricity
Performing a home test to see whether an electrical switch or outlet connects to ‘live’ electricity is surprisingly simple.
Use A Non-Contact Voltage Tester
A non-contact electrical tester like this one on Amazon, is a tool that checks whether the electrical switch or outlet is receiving voltage in a way that is:
To use this tool, hold the non-conducting tip next to a switch or press it into a receptacle to check for any voltage. On Amazon, you can also get a simple plug-in voltage checker for most electrical outlets.
Use A Neon Or Circuit Tester
To check whether a receptacle is dead, insert the probes of a neon or circuit tester into the slots. Avoid making skin contact with the probes’ metal ends while plugged into the outlet, as the connection could prove very dangerous.
HOT TIP: The neon tester will light up if the circuit gets charged.
The information above makes it easy to see why you should not panic if your electrical outlet isn’t working. There are many reasons why your outlet may seem like it is not working when something else is to blame. Though most of the issues are easy to resolve, always remember not to handle wires receiving electricity and if you are uncertain, call for professional help.
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