Having an outlet in your house that doesn't seem to work properly can be annoying and unsafe. There are a few common issues that can cause outlets to malfunction, most of which are relatively easy for a homeowner to troubleshoot and repair. With some basic tools and safety precautions, I can tackle that one problematic outlet and get it working properly again.
Testing The Outlet To Diagnose The Problem
Before attempting to fix the outlet, I need to do some testing to properly diagnose the root cause of the issue. Here are a few things I will test:
Plugging In a Lamp or Device
I will start by simply plugging a lamp or other device into the outlet to see if it powers on. If the outlet is completely dead, the issue could be:
- A tripped breaker or blown fuse shutting off power to the outlet
- Faulty wiring connections to the outlet
- A damaged outlet
If the device turns on, but appears to get power intermittently or sparks, that indicates:
- Loose wire connections to the outlet
- Faulty wires running to the outlet
Testing With a Voltage Tester
Using a voltage tester is a safer way to check if the outlet is receiving power without needing to plug in a device. I will turn off the relevant breaker, verify the power is off with the tester, and then turn the breaker back on to see if the tester shows 120 volts at the outlet.
Checking For Faulty Wiring
I can remove the outlet cover plate and visually inspect the wiring connections. Loose, damaged, burnt wires point to a wiring issue causing the problem. I will look for:
- Loose wire connections
- Frayed or exposed wires
- Burn marks on the wires or outlet
With the power off, I can gently tug on the wires to see if there is any looseness indicating a faulty connection to the outlet.
Fixing Loose Wire Connections
If I determine the outlet is getting power but the wires are connected loosely, fixing the connections should resolve the issue. Here are the steps I will follow:
Turn Off Power at the Breaker
I will locate the corresponding circuit breaker and turn it to the "Off" position to cut power to the outlet. I will verify power is off using a voltage tester.
Remove the Outlet
After the power is confirmed off, I will unscrew and gently remove the outlet from the electrical box. I may need to disconnect any grounding wires as well.
Inspect and Clean Connections
I will inspect the ends of the wires for corrosion and buildup and clean them thoroughly with a wire brush. Clean wire ends will allow for optimal electrical connections.
Re-Attach Wires Securably
I will securely re-attach each wire to the matching terminal on the outlet using a screwdriver. The black hot wire goes to the brass outlet terminal, the white neutral wire to silver, and ground wire to green.
With all wires tightly fastened, I can re-install the outlet into the electrical box and screw it in securely. I will replace the cover plate.
Restore Power and Test
After restoring power at the breaker, I will plug in a device and test that the outlet is now operating normally.
Replacing a Faulty Outlet
If the outlet itself is damaged or non-functional, I will need to replace it completely. Here is the process:
Turn Off Electrical Power
Just like with loose connections, I will start by turning off power to the outlet at the breaker and verifying it is off with a voltage tester for safety.
Remove Old Outlet
I will unscrew the outlet from inside the electrical box and disconnect all the wires, taking note of where each one was attached. I can then fully remove the faulty outlet.
Install New Outlet
I will insert the new outlet into the box and screw it in securely. One at a time, I will attach the wires to the matching terminals - hot to brass, neutral to silver, ground to green.
I will tug on each wire to ensure they are all firmly fastened to the outlet with no looseness. This ensures a safe, lasting connection.
Replace Cover Plate
Once the new outlet is wired up, I can screw on the cover plate, being sure no wires are pinched.
I will turn the breaker back on and plug in a device to verify the outlet is now working properly.
Troubleshooting Ground Faults
If the outlet keeps tripping the GFCI breaker, there is likely a ground fault issue. Here is how I will investigate and fix ground faults:
Reset the GFCI Breaker
When a GFCI breaker trips, I will begin by resetting it to see if the outlet now works properly. If it trips again, there is still an underlying ground fault.
Check for Grounding Issues
I will unplug all devices from the outlet and carefully inspect behind the plate for any loose, damaged, or missing ground wires. Properly attached ground wires are essential for safe operation.
Test with a Ground Fault Detector
Using a ground fault detector plugged into the outlet, I can determine if there is a faulty device or grounding issue downstream causing the problem. I will test outlets in sequence to isolate the ground fault.
Replace Damaged Cords and Devices
If a certain device trips the outlet when plugged in, the problem is likely with that equipment. I will replace any damaged power cords or faulty devices causing ground faults.
Upgrade to GFCI Outlet
For outlets lacking ground wires, installing a GFCI outlet will help prevent ground faults. I can hire an electrician if I am uncomfortable doing this myself.
With persistence and by carefully testing and troubleshooting, I can get that one problematic outlet working safely again. Paying attention to the issue now prevents potentially bigger problems down the road.