How to Fix That One Weird Outlet in Your House That Doesn't Work Right

Having an outlet in your house that doesn't work properly can be frustrating and potentially dangerous. With some basic tools and safety precautions, you can often diagnose and fix the issue yourself. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to fix that one weird outlet in your house that doesn't work right.

Testing the Outlet

The first step is to test the outlet to confirm there is a problem and try to identify what it is.

Check for power

Plug a lamp or other device into the outlet to see if it has power. If the outlet doesn't power the device, there could be a tripped breaker, a blown fuse, or a wiring issue.

Test with a voltage tester

If the outlet has power, use a voltage tester to check for voltage. Place one probe in the hot slot and one in the neutral. A voltage tester will light up if electricity is flowing. If you only get a reading from one slot, it indicates an open neutral. No voltage means there's likely a tripped GFCI outlet or breaker stopping power from reaching the outlet.

Check for correct wiring

Use a receptacle tester to see if the outlet is wired correctly. Plug it in and observe the pattern of lights. If any light is not on, it points to a wiring fault like reversed hot and neutral wires or an open ground.

Locating the Circuit Breaker

Before doing any electrical work, switch off the power to the outlet at the main circuit breaker panel.

Use a voltage tester on the outlet again to confirm power is off before proceeding.

Checking the Outlet Wires

With the power off, remove the outlet cover and unscrew the outlet from the electrical box. Carefully pull the outlet out enough to access the wires.

If the wires look damaged and worn, it's best to replace the entire outlet. Otherwise, you can reuse the existing outlet.

Fixing Wiring Issues

Many outlet issues result from incorrect wiring that needs to be arranged properly:

Use wire nuts to cover any exposed wire ends. Make sure wires are hooked clockwise around the screws to avoid loosening.

Replacing the Outlet

If the outlet itself is damaged or unsuitable for any reason, replace it with a new outlet:

Test the outlet before returning power to the circuit. Plug in a lamp to make sure the outlet works properly without any hazards.

Restoring the Power and Testing

Once the outlet is safely installed and secured inside the electrical box, you can turn the power back on at the circuit breaker.

The last step is to test the outlet again with devices plugged in to make sure the issue is fully resolved. If it still doesn't work properly, you may need to call an electrician to investigate more complex wiring problems.

With the right safety gear and some electrical knowledge, many outlet issues can be addressed on your own without the need to call an electrician. Just take things slow and turn off power to reduce the risk of shock.