Dead outlets can be a major inconvenience in the home. While your first instinct may be to call an electrician, there are multiple potential causes of dead outlets—many of which you can fix yourself. Before you pick up the phone, see if you can find the problem to save some money.
Check Other Outlets
Sometimes the problem can be something as simple as an overload or short on a circuit. Check to see if any other outlets or lights are having issues first. If an overload is the problem, unplugging other appliances or turning off lights can sort it out. Mark any outlets that are troublesome so you can keep track of them, and unplug any devices from them.
Head for the Circuit Breaker
One of the most common problems that can affect an outlet is a tripped circuit breaker or blown fuse. Since you’ll likely be switching breakers on and off, turn off any larger appliances, such as computers, that may react negatively from a loss of power.
A tripped circuit will usually be obvious because it isn’t in line with the others. Push the breaker to the “on” position. While this can fix the problem, it’s best to fully reset the breaker. Do this by firmly pushing it to the “off” position until you hear a click, then switch it back on. If you can’t see that a breaker is obviously off, reset all the breakers to be sure.
If the breaker immediately trips again after resetting, there’s likely a problem with something plugged into the circuit or in the wiring.
Look for Burned Out Fuses
Fuses can also cause outlet issues. If you see broken filament or charred glass, unscrew the fuse and replace it with a new one. Make sure the type and amperage of the replacement match the previous one.
Ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets are usually in the bathroom or other area where a shock hazard is great. While they come with stickers, these usually fall off. You can identify them by the test and reset buttons. An outlet may have trouble because it has a connection to the GFCI outlet, which has tripped.
Test and reset all GFCI outlets to see if that helps your dead outlet. If the reset button continually pops out after resetting, this can be the sign of a current leak somewhere on the circuit. In this case, you should call an electrician to inspect the problem.
Seek Bad Connections
When other methods don’t power up your dead outlet, there may be a bad connection somewhere along the circuit. One of your options is to look for loose connections. Keep in mind that the problem may be on the dead outlet or with another outlet along the circuit. Before you start searching, you should turn off the main breaker.
Three common bad connections you may find are:
- Loose terminal screws
- Loose stab-in connections
- Loose wires in connectors
You can often correct these problems on your own, either by replacing the outlet (in the case of terminal screws), or by cutting and exposing new wire before reconnecting it (for stab-in connections and connector issues).
If you don’t find any wire issues or just don’t feel comfortable doing the electrical work yourself, call an electrician for help.