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Why Is My Outlet Not Working?

Having an outlet that suddenly stops working can be frustrating. What many people may not know is that it can also be a sign of a serious issue that could be a safety hazard. As such, it’s a good idea to take some steps any time an outlet stops working to see if you can determine why. In this article, we’ll explain what issues can make an outlet stop working so that you know what to look for and also when it’s an issue that requires immediate attention.

Tripped Circuit Breaker

A tripped circuit breaker will always prevent an outlet from working since the breaker shuts off the power to the outlet when it trips. You will usually notice immediately if a circuit breaker is tripped since the nearby lights also won’t work. This is because the lighting and outlets in most rooms or parts of the home are usually wired on the same circuit and controlled by the same breaker. However, there are generally at least a few outlets in most homes that aren’t on a circuit that controls any lighting. This is usually the case with small appliances along kitchen counters, outdoor outlets, and sometimes laundry or utility room outlets. The outlets for microwaves, refrigerators, and freezers are also often independent of lighting. Since checking to see if a circuit breaker is tripped only takes a few seconds, it’s definitely the first step you should take before enlisting the help of an electrician. Most electrical panels are clearly labeled so you know which circuit breakers correspond to which rooms, parts of the house, or appliances. If the breakers aren’t labeled, you can also try to switch on any flipped to see if your outlet works.

Wiring Issues

The most common reason an outlet will stop working is a wiring issue, such as a frayed or loose wire. These issues can also result in an outlet only working sporadically. Any type of wiring issue can be a fire hazard, so you should unplug everything from an outlet if you notice it doesn’t work. As long as nothing is plugged in, electricity won’t flow through the outlet, and it shouldn’t start to melt or catch fire. Nonetheless, it is still a good idea to have an electrician inspect any outlet that stops working as soon as possible just to be safe.

Outlet Is Faulty or Worn Out

Outlets can also sometimes be defective and just suddenly stop working or wear out due to age. With older outlets, it is relatively common for the internal socket connections to loosen eventually. This leads to the prongs on a plug no longer fitting snugly enough for power to flow out of the outlet. These issues are something an electrician can quickly check by using a voltmeter to determine if power is still flowing out of the outlet. If the electrician determines it is defective or worn out, the only option is to install a new outlet.

GFCI Outlet Is Tripped or Worn Out

Most homes have at least some GFCI (Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter) outlets in the kitchen, bathroom, basement, utility room, and anywhere else where the outlet could be exposed to water. This type of outlet is designed to prevent the risk of potentially fatal electrocution if water gets inside an outlet. It detects if the current takes any unexpected path and flows out of the circuit. When this happens, the internal mechanism in the outlet will trip within a few milliseconds so that power no longer flows out of the outlet. If a GFCI outlet ever makes a trip, it needs to be manually reset before power flows again and the outlet works. You can usually tell if a GFCI outlet has tripped since most of them have a small green light that shows whether they are on or off. The reset button on the outlet will also pop out if it trips. If the outlet is tripped, pressing the reset button should make it work again. GFCIs are also prone to wearing out or suddenly failing, so you will likely need to have them repaired or replaced if they still don’t work after you’ve tried to reset them.

Half-Hot Outlet Is Switched Off

This issue is less common, but something many encounter after moving into a new home. Some homes have at least a few “half-hot” outlets like bedrooms, living rooms, or areas with floor lamps. A half-hot outlet is wired so that one of the receptacles is always on and ready to supply power while a switch on the wall controls the other receptacle. If you ever notice that only one of the receptacles on an outlet works, it is worth trying all the switches in the room to see if they control the other receptacle. If you know you have a half-hot outlet that suddenly stops working correctly, it usually indicates a problem with the switch and not the outlet itself.

Other Signs an Outlet Needs To Be Repaired or Replaced Other issues can indicate you need an outlet repaired or replaced, even if it is still working. Most of the following situations are considered safety hazards, so they’re something that you should have an electrician take care of as soon as possible.

Smoking or Burn Marks

Smoking or scorching are obvious signs of a frayed wire or loose connection. This causes the current to arc and the plastic part of the outlet to begin melting, requiring immediate attention due to the major risk of catching fire. If you ever see smoke or smell burning plastic, immediately unplug everything from the outlet. It’s also a good idea to shut off the circuit breaker for that room until you can have an electrician replace the outlet.

Outlet Is Only Two Prong

Some of the outlets in older homes may only be two-prong instead of three. Two-prong outlets are dangerous and can be a fire hazard since they aren’t grounded. If an outlet isn’t grounded, it doesn’t have any way to safely disperse excess electricity in the event of a short circuit or overload and is thus at a much higher risk of catching fire.

Non-GFCI Outlets

Current electrical codes require GFCI protection for all outdoor outlets and those in bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, basements, and utility rooms. However, you’re only required to bring your electrical system up to code when performing major renovations or electrical work. Nonetheless, we recommend replacing your old outlets in these locations with GFCIs to protect yourself against the risk of electrocution. If you need electrical services in the Weatherford region of North Texas, Lightfoot Mechanical is ready to help. We’ve been providing expert electrical services since 1983 and can help if you need to replace an outlet or require any repair or installation services. As one of the top HVAC services in the area, we can also handle all of your air conditioning and heating needs. To schedule an electrical inspection or any other service, contact us today.

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Gary Lightfoot

With over 30 years of experience in the industry, Gary Lightfoot took over his family business and continues to run it with the values and standards set 35 years ago

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