Electric Outlet Not Working: Reasons and Troubleshooting Tips

electric outlet

Is your electric outlet suddenly not working? Here are probable reasons and what you can do about it!

Electricity is pretty much an essential part of our daily lives. We use it for lighting, heating or cooling, refrigeration, and powering our electronics. Basically, electricity makes living more comfortable and convenient. 

Although we are all very reliant on electricity, what goes behind the walls and electric wirings is pretty much a mystery to many homeowners. That’s why it could be frustrating when something goes wrong with our electrical system–such as losing power in an electrical outlet. 

Read: Home Electrical Basics: 8 Things Every Home Owner Should Know

Broken outlets are one of the common electrical issues in homes. Before you call an electrician, it could help if you try to diagnose the problem first since you won’t need professional assistance right away in some instances. In this article, we will cover the reasons why an electric outlet isn’t supplying power and how you can troubleshoot the issue. 

But before that, let’s take a look at the different types of household electrical outlets and their uses.

8 Types of Electrical Outlets Found in Homes

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1. 15A Outlets – These are the most common outlets found mostly in older homes and are used for appliances that have low voltage or amperage requirements. They are also the cheapest type of outlet and are the easiest to replace or install. 

15A outlets come in two versions: two-prong and three-prong. If you have this type of outlet, especially the two-prong version, it might be good to have an electrician upgrade them soon to improve safety in your home. That’s because two-prong outlets lack grounding and are, in fact, not up to code. 

2. 20A Outlets – This type of electrical outlet is used to power electronics that require a higher voltage. Some appliances that are perfect for this type of outlet are dishwashers, washing machines, and other power-hogging devices.

A quick way to differentiate the 20A from the 15A outlet is that you’ll see a small horizontal slot into the prong opening on the left side.

3. Tamper-Resistant Receptacles – If you’re planning to have your outdated outlets updated, you may consider getting tamper-resistant receptacles for your home. In fact, the 2008 National Electric Code (NEC) requires newly constructed or remodeled homes to use this type of outlet.

From its name, this type of outlet has a built-in mechanism that prevents foreign objects to be inserted into the outlet. This is a safe choice especially if you have children in your home. 

Read: Electrical Safety Tips and Children

4. GCFI Outlets – Ground Fault Circuit Interruptor outlets trip or cut off electricity when it detects a power surge. GCFI outlets are often used for places near water, like in bathrooms, kitchens, laundry areas, basements, or outdoors as it instantly shuts off the power supply when it detects moisture near the outlet.

5. AFCI Outlets – The Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter outlet prevents the formation of arcs and automatically deactivates the outlet if it detects this occurrence. An arc takes place when electricity jumps from a wire to another due to loose contacts in the electrical system. Arc faults are dangerous as it generates heat, causing the wire’s insulation to break down and start an electrical fire.

6. Switched Outlets – This type of outlet integrates a switch to control whether or not you like to power the appliances connected to the outlet. Switched outlets are ideal to use on appliances or lights that you want to keep plugged in but don’t want to keep running all the time.

7. USB Outlets – This is the type of outlet that is perfect for home offices so you can conveniently charge tablets and smartphones.

8. Smart Outlets – These are much like any outlet, except for the fact that smart outlets have a feature where you can control them using your smartphone. In addition, these modern receptacles allow you to monitor your power usage and also set a schedule when you want them to be switched on or off. 

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Reasons Why Electric Outlets Stop Working

For homeowners who have no idea about how their electric system works, it might be difficult to diagnose an outlet that suddenly stopped working; but we’re here to help. Here are some reasons why outlets lose power:

Tripped Circuit Breaker

The purpose of a circuit breaker is to “trip” or interrupt the power flowing through the circuits when it detects an excess current, which is either from an electrical overload or a short circuit. When the breaker trips, it will cut off the electric supply to your outlet and you’ll also lose power in a certain part of your home (usually where the outlet is also located).

When this happens, what you want to do is to head to your main service panel and identify the affected breaker. A tripped breaker has the handle positioned between on and off. Turn off and unplug all appliances and devices connected to the circuit before restarting the breaker. 

To restart a tripped breaker, flip the switch fully off and then switch it on. This should restore the power and potentially fix the outlet that wasn’t working. 

Circuit breakers trip because of temporary overload; however, if you notice that your breaker trips frequently, we recommend that you call your local electrician to check the issue. 

Blown Fuse

If you live in an old home that still uses a fuse box, the probable reason why an outlet isn’t working is due to a blown fuse. Much like how a breaker works, a fuse blows when lights or appliances connected to it draw too much power from the circuit. Unfortunately, replacing a broken fuse isn’t as simple as flipping switches because you need to replace the affected fuse. 

Note: Does your home still use a fuse box? It may be time to consider having this upgraded to a circuit breaker box by a licensed electrician. Old electrical systems that are not properly maintained are a huge safety risk and are not designed to supply power to modern electronics. 

Tripped GFCI Outlets

If you checked your circuit breaker panel and don’t see a tripped breaker, the GCFI outlet itself might be tripped. As mentioned earlier, GCFI outlets automatically cut off electricity when it detects an abnormality in the current.

To reset, make sure to unplug the appliance connected to the GFCI and press the button (usually colored red) that says “RESET”. You should hear a click after pressing the reset button and the outlet should be back to normal. However, if your GCFI outlet keeps tripping, you may be overloading the circuit by connecting too many electronics, or you may be plugging in a faulty appliance. 

Loose Electrical Connections

Have you reset your circuit breaker or GCFI but still have no luck restoring power to the outlet? The problem may be loose electrical connections. 

To identify if this is the issue, the first thing you need to do is to turn off your main breaker. Remove the outlets and check the screw terminal for loose or frayed wires. A loose wire will turn under the screw when you move it, or the screw itself will turn. While inspecting, also check if there are any burnt or corroded wires. 

If you spot a loose connection or wear and tear in the wiring, the best thing to do is to replace the outlet with a new one. Loose connections can lead to overheating and could cause an electric fire, so never turn a blind eye to this issue.

Schedule a visit from an electrician if you have little knowledge about replacing outlets. Also, it’s a better idea to trust a pro to handle any type of electrical work. 

Burnt-out Outlets

Is your outlet not working? Do you see scorch marks on it? Chances are, a small fire or a spark has occurred and caused your outlet to burn. There are two main reasons why this happened–faulty wiring and circuit overload. When this happens, your entire outlet needs to be replaced. Call for an electrician service as soon as possible to fix the issue as burnt outlets are a serious fire hazard.

Defective Outlets

Although uncommon, outlets can be faulty especially if they are already old. If you’ve done everything above – checked circuit breakers, inspected for loose connections, etc., but your outlet is still dead, it’s a clear sign to have it replaced or updated. Again, if you’re not confident to install a new one yourself, schedule a visit from an electrician. 

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How much does it cost to hire a licensed electrician?

The hourly rate of electricians in the U.S. costs anywhere between $50 to $100. Do note that these fees do not include other costs such as trip fees and replacement parts. If you’re looking for a pro to help you fix your outlet or do other electrical repairs, expect to pay around $161 and above.

If you want to get the best deal, we recommend that you contact at least three contractors from your neighborhood to compare their quotations. We can help you find electricians near you, click here.