Why Is My Electrical Outlet Not Working?

A common electrical problem that homeowners face is dead outlets. Dead outlets happen in almost every house and for a number of reasons regardless of the home’s age. Identify why an electrical outlet is not working so you can decide if you can fix it yourself or if you need a professional electrician to do the job.

Start with troubleshooting the electrical outlet that isn’t working. Here are some ways to identify the problem.

Flip the light switch

Yes, it seems too obvious. But, this is the first place to start troubleshooting. Some outlets are controlled by a switch on the wall. The purpose of this outlet is 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 live again.

Plug in different items

Test the outlet by plugging in multiple other items to the electrical outlet not working. If none of the devices power up, you can move on to other troubleshooting techniques.

Reset GFCI outlet

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 is designed to protect against electrocution, but it can be temperamental.  It will cut off the electricity in an area in response to a power surge. Make sure that there is no water in contact with your GFCI outlet before pressing the small rectangular “Reset” button.

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.

Check circuit breaker panel

If the electricity cuts off in only a portion of the house, then 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 to prevent damage. If this occurs, unplug everything from the problem outlet and turn off all appliances in that area of the house to avoid overloading the circuit.

Go to your breaker panel, which is typically located in a utility room, garage 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.

Check for short circuit

A short circuit occurs when the flow of electricity is obstructed. 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.

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 face plate from the outlet. 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.

Replace the outlet

Although rare, the outlet might be faulty. 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 repairs can be dangerous, possibly resulting in shock, electrocution, or fire if you are unsure of what you’re doing.  Call Central Carolina Air Conditioning, Plumbing, & Electrical at 1.800.461.3010 for professional assistance.