Why Outlets Stop Working

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Posted April 4, 2018

Your outlets can stop working for many reasons. Usually, when this happens, it’s an easy fix. Sometimes it’s even a fix that doesn’t require any tools (yep, you read that right). Discover why outlets stop working and when to DIY or call in the experts.

Before you race over to check your circuit breaker, take a minute to check out your other outlets for affected lights and appliances. Flip your lights on and off to test nearby outlets for power. If you aren’t having any success there, then unplug any lamps or other plugins from the “dead” outlet to ensure that the electronic isn’t overloading or causing a short. Using masking tape, mark any outlets that you are having issues with, so you can easily remember which ones are the problem.

Tripped Circuit Breaker

When your breaker gets overloaded, it shuts off to prevent the circuit from receiving any additional electrical flow that could cause damage or fire. It may seem like a hassle to have to check the panel, but this switch off can prevent a lot of potential damage from happening.

If you’ve gone through and unplugged any devices in the outlet you are concerned about, then you’ll want to locate and check for a tripped circuit or a blown fuse. When a breaker is tripped, it will usually be flipped into the off position. But, this isn’t always the case, sometimes they can be slightly moved out of position or look totally normal. A tripped breaker will typically have a little “give” to it rather than feeling solid. You’ll need to reset any tripped breakers by flipping them into the on position.

A tripped circuit breaker is typically the result of a temporary overload in the circuit. But in rare cases, a loose wire in the electrical panel can cause the problem. When this is the case, you’ll want to contact your local electrician to handle it. Though basic wiring can be a relatively simple fix for many homeowners, do-it-yourselfers be warned, many electrical repairs require technical expertise that isn’t common knowledge.

Tripped GFCI Outlet

GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) outlets are the outlets with the reset and test buttons. They are required in areas of the house with the greatest risk of shock or electrical hazards, like your kitchen or bathrooms. If they sense a leak in electrical current, they immediately trip to shut off the power. What often happens is that electricians connect additional standard outlets to one GFCI outlet (to try and save money), but a lot of people are unaware of this connection. When an outlet goes “dead,” it might be easy to rule out GFCIs if you haven’t considered that others may be connected.

A GFCI that “pops” will cause all outlets down the line on the same circuit to stop working. Sometimes the outlet can be in another room, and a tripped GFCI in your bathroom might shut it off. Test and reset each of your GFCIs to check for trips. If the GFCI won’t reset or the button doesn’t pop out when you press “test,” then there is a chance that either it is not receiving power or that it’s a poorly connected GFCI. If the “reset” button trips every time you press it, then there might be a dangerous current running through the circuit. Either way, this problem will require additional electrical testing that is best left to a licensed electrician.

Loose Electrical Connections

If you’ve checked your breakers and your GFCIs without restoring your power, then your next best solution is to remove the outlet to check for loose connections.

Pro tip: You’ll want to grab a flashlight because you’ll be turning off the power for this job.

First, turn off your main breaker. With your outlets removed, inspect the screw terminals for broken or loose wires. Carefully maneuver the wire at each terminal to check for any loose connections. If it is loose, then it will turn under the screw or the screw itself will turn. While you’re looking around in there, try to inspect for any burned, broken, or corroded wires. If you happen to find a loose connection, then your best solution will be to replace the outlet with a new one. Loose connections frequently create excess heat that can lead to future problems.

With a little knowledge you could replace the outlet yourself, but if you don’t feel like handling the electrical work, then Hiller is here to help. If you find that you have aluminum wiring, don’t try messing with it yourself! Contact a qualified professional who is certified to work with that material. This wiring will be a grey color, not the orange color you might be used to seeing.

Additionally, some outlets have stab wires for connections. These aren’t recommended because they tend to loosen over time, but this sort of connection is still entirely up to code. If you find a loose stab-in, don’t attempt to reinsert the wire. Instead, cut and strip the end of the wire and connect it to the screw terminal located on the side of the outlet. Or cut and strip all of the wires and connect them to a new outlet.

Sometimes the loose wire is actually loose in the wire connector. For this fix, grab your wire connector and tug the wire until you discover the loose one. If there is a loose one, remove the wire connector. Cut and strip any wires in the bundle to expose ½ inch to ¾ inch of copper wire, and reconnect. If you don’t find any loose connections in this box and are still concerned there might be more, you can check surrounding outlets. This might be a good time to circle back to any other outlets you taped off.

Why Outlets Stop Working

Sometimes electrical outlets will quite literally burn out. It could be a brief spark or even a fire. If an electrical outlet begins to spark, stays constantly warm, or shows any sign of blackening around the plugs, stop using immediately! Even if the plug still works, the entire outlet should be replaced to avoid any chance of fire damage. Outlets are easy to replace, but because electrical work can be so dangerous, it’s recommended that you leave most repairs to a professional electrician. If you don’t shut down the right outlet, it could result in serious injury. If you don’t properly install the new outlet, an electrical fire might be in your future or someone could get shocked. A electrician near me will be able to easily determine if your outlet problem is because of the outlet or a device plugged in. No matter what you decide to do, always practice good safety habits. Hiller also offers a full line of whole home generators, so you are never left without power.

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