How to Fix That One Outlet In Your House That Never Works Right (And Why It's Happening)
Having one outlet that never seems to work right can be incredibly frustrating. But with a few simple troubleshooting techniques, you can likely fix the issue yourself without calling an electrician. Here's a comprehensive guide on how to diagnose and repair a problematic outlet in your home.
Why Your Outlet May Not Be Working Properly
There are a few common reasons why you might have an outlet that doesn't seem to work right:
Over time, vibrations and plugging/unplugging cords can cause wires to become loose inside the outlet. This interrupted connection prevents electricity from flowing properly through the outlet.
The outlet itself may be damaged or worn out. Older outlets can become brittle and prone to internal failure.
If too many appliances are plugged into the circuit, it can trip the breaker causing power to cut out for that outlet.
There could be a problem with the home's electrical wiring leading to the outlet, like a nicked wire or improper connections.
If the outlet is connected to a GFCI circuit, a ground fault may have tripped the GFCI outlet causing a loss of power.
Diagnosing the Issue
Before attempting to fix the outlet, you'll need to figure out what's causing the problem. Here are some steps to diagnose the issue:
1. Plug in a lamp or phone charger to see if the outlet provides power.
This lets you test whether the outlet is completely dead or just having intermittent problems.
2. Check the home's circuit breaker box.
Flip the breaker for that outlet off and back on to see if it's just a tripped breaker.
3. Inspect nearby outlets on the same circuit.
Test outlets in the same room or area to see if they also lack power. This helps identify if it's a localized issue or a circuit-wide problem.
4. Consider electrical events leading up to the issue.
Did the outlet stop working after plugging in a new appliance? Was there a lightning storm recently that could have caused a surge? Take note of any events that preceded the problem.
5. Remove the outlet cover and inspect the interior.
Turn off power to the outlet at the breaker box first! Then remove the cover plate and look for any signs of loose, damaged, or burnt wires.
6. Check for GFCI outlets on the same circuit.
Reset any GFCI outlets by pressing the "Reset" button to see if that restores power.
How to Repair the Outlet
Once you've diagnosed the likely cause, you can move on to actually repairing the faulty outlet. Make sure to turn off the power at the breaker box before working on an outlet!
Fixing Loose Connections
If wires are loose, you'll need to disconnect them completely, strip off any damaged wire coating, then reconnect them securely by either screwing them down or using wire nuts. Make sure no copper wire is exposed.
Replacing a Faulty Outlet
For a damaged outlet, buy a replacement that matches the number of slots/USB ports. Take note of which wires connect to which terminal screws. Disconnect the wires, unscrew the outlet, install the new one, and reconnect the wires properly.
Resetting a Tripped Breaker
If you found the breaker had tripped, switch it all the way off, then back on fully to reset the circuit. Consider reducing the number of appliances running on that circuit if it's overloaded.
Calling an Electrician
For suspected wiring problems or complex electrical issues, contact a licensed electrician to inspect and troubleshoot the outlet and wiring. They have the proper tools and testing equipment.
Resetting a GFCI Outlet
If you found a tripped GFCI outlet on the circuit, press its "Reset" button firmly. Test associated outlets to see if that restored power.
Preventing Future Outlet Issues
To help minimize outlet problems down the road:
- Don't overload circuits by plugging in too many appliances
- Install surge protectors to protect from electrical spikes
- Replace old outlets with worn, loose connections
- Only use grounded 3-prong outlets and plugs for safety
- Have wiring inspected when buying a new home or doing renovations
With some basic DIY troubleshooting, you can often get your problematic outlet up and running again quickly and safely. But if you aren't comfortable working with electrical repairs, always call a professional electrician.