How to Fix That One Outlet In Your House That Never Works Right (Don't Call An Electrician Before Reading This)
Assess the Outlet
The first step is to closely examine the outlet that is giving you trouble. Check if it is loose or if the wires are damaged. Gently wiggle the outlet to see if it moves - loose connections can cause intermittent problems. Inspect the wires connecting to the outlet, looking for any frayed insulation or exposed copper that could indicate a short circuit. Use a flashlight to peer into the electrical box behind the outlet and check for signs of overheating like scorch marks. If you see any major damage to the wiring, it's best to call an electrician.
Check Breakers and GFCIs
Before doing any work on the outlet, make sure the circuit is deactivated. Locate the correct circuit at the breaker box and switch it to the OFF position. If the outlet is connected to a GFCI outlet elsewhere, you will need to reset that as well. GFCIs have a reset button that pops out when tripped - push it back in to reset it. Turn off power at the source before resetting a GFCI. If resetting the GFCI or breaker doesn't restore power, the problem likely lies with the outlet itself.
Replace the Outlet
If the outlet itself seems to be the issue, replacing it with a new one should resolve the problem:
- Unscrew the outlet and carefully pull it out of the electrical box. Be sure the circuit is OFF!
- Disconnect the wires, making note of where they were attached. Often the brass screws are for hot wires and silver screws for neutral.
- Secure the wires to the corresponding screws on the new outlet. Line up hot with hot and neutral with neutral.
- Push the outlet back into the box and tighten the mounting screws.
- Restore power and test the outlet. If it still doesn't work, double check the connections.
Replacing an outlet is a simple project for a homeowner as long as proper safety precautions are taken. Keep power OFF and use caution when working with electrical wiring. If in doubt, call an electrician!
Inspect More Places
If installing a new outlet doesn't fix the problem, the issue could be affecting more than just that outlet. Check downline outlets on the same circuit - you may find another loose connection in the wiring. The problem might also stem from the circuit breaker itself being faulty - test it by turning it off and back on. Circuit breakers can fail over time. Consider replacing an older breaker if you've ruled out other causes.
Call An Electrician For Major Issues
While many outlet issues can be DIY repairs, some electrical problems are better left to the pros. Call an electrician immediately if:
- You notice scorched outlets or light switches
- Circuits randomly trip with no cause
- Walls feel hot around outlets
- You have recurring or widespread power issues
Faulty wiring can lead to fires or shock hazards. When in doubt, hire an electrician to ensure your electrical system is safe. They have the expertise to correctly diagnose issues and make repairs.
Practice Electrical Safety
When making any electrical repairs:
- Turn off power at the breaker before working
- Test wires are de-energized with a non-contact voltage tester
- Only work on wiring you are comfortable with
- Never overload outlets with too many appliances
- Use outlets with GFCI protection near water sources
- Replace damaged or outdated outlets/wiring
Being safe around electricity prevents shocks or electrocution. Follow guidelines and use caution even when doing minor outlet repairs. Knowing when to call a professional electrician ensures your safety and protects your home from electrical fires.