“Why Is My Outlet Not Working?” A MN Electrician Explains

If you find that an outlet in your house suddenly isn’t working, don’t panic just yet.

There are plenty of DIY options when it comes to troubleshooting and fixing a bum outlet.

Some possible reasons your outlet isn’t working include:

  • A tripped circuit breaker
  • A tripped GFCI outlet
  • Loose wiring

We’ll walk you through how to check for each issue and what you can do to fix the problem.

The circuit breaker tripped

Circuit breakers live in your main electrical panel and monitor the level of current traveling to your outlets and appliances. 

They’re designed to “trip” (or cut power) if the level of electrical current flowing through a circuit hits an unsafe level. This prevents wires from overheating and causing fires.

What to do:
If you think a tripped circuit breaker is your issue, follow these steps:

  1. Unplug all appliances from the outlet.
  2. Find your main electrical panel (usually located in the garage, basement or laundry room) and look for a tripped breaker. A tripped circuit breaker won’t be lined up with the rest of the breakers (see picture above). Note: Sometimes, a tripped breaker isn’t all the way flipped to the OFF position. To test for tripped breakers you can gently tap on each one. Tripped breakers will easily snap into the middle or OFF position.
  3. If none of the breakers are tripped, continue on to troubleshooting for a tripped GFCI outlet.
  4. If one of the breakers have tripped, push it back firmly to the ON position. You should hear a click. 
  5. Check to see if the breaker stays in place or automatically flips back to the off position.

If the breaker stays in place:

Go back and check your outlet for power. Chances are, your outlet will be working again. But if it continues to trip in the future, stop using the outlet and call an electrician.

Most likely, the outlet stopped working because it was overloaded (meaning too many appliances were pulling power from the same circuit). If it trips again in the future when other appliances are plugged in or running, an electrician can check and find a solution for an overloaded circuit.

If the breaker automatically flips back:

If the tripped breaker automatically flips back to the OFF position, you most likely have an electrical problem somewhere on that circuit (i.e. a ground fault or short circuit), to find and fix the problem contact an electrician. Note: Do not use the outlet until it’s been fixed.

Want to learn more about the likely problems with your circuit breaker? Check out our article, “Here’s Why Your Circuit Breaker Keeps Tripping”.

A tripped GFCI outlet

If your outlet looks like the outlet below and has a reset and test button on it, your outlet is an GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) protected outlet and may not be working due to unsafe electrical conditions.

You see, a GFCI outlet is designed to monitor the electrical current flowing to any appliance plugged into it. If it senses that the electrical current is flowing through an unintended course (i.e. water or a person) it shuts off in the blink of an eye to protect you from electrical shock.

Usually, a GFCI outlet will trip due to 2 circumstances:

  • There’s an electrical malfunction in a device that’s plugged into the outlet
  • The GFCI outlet isn’t working properly

What to do:

  1. Unplug all devices from that outlet.
  2. Reset the GFCI outlet by pressing the “RESET” button. Power should be restored to the outlet now.
  3. Plug in appliances one by one and monitor any loss of power to the circuit. This way, you can determine if it is a specific device that is causing the outlet to trip.
  4. If the outlet trips regardless of what is plugged in, have an electrician inspect the outlet as this could mean the GFCI outlet needs to be replaced. Note: if the GFCI outlet needs to be replaced, avoid using the outlet until it’s replaced or fixed.

If you’ve completed the steps above but still don’t have power, read on to troubleshoot for faulty or old wiring.

Loose wires

Over time, wires in an outlet can become loose. And loose wires are prone to overheating and melting, creating bad connections that stop your outlet from delivering electrical power to your appliances.

One tell-tale sign that you have loose wires/bad connections is blackening around the outlet.

What to do: 
We suggest leaving this electrical inspection to a professional. They’ll pull the outlet out of the box and inspect the connections. They’ll determine if the outlet can be fixed or if it needs to be replaced.

Still dealing with a dead outlet? Ask a MN electrician

If you’ve checked for the 3 situations above but your outlet still isn’t working, we’re here to help.

Just schedule your appointment with us today. We’ll send out an experienced electrician who can find the problem and get your outlet working in no time.

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