There’s no doubt about it, electricity is the driving force of the modern age. It powers our computers, our phones, our home appliances and so much more. In the future, chances are good that even electrical cars will take over as the primary mode of transportation. So, when you plug something in to an outlet, and you don’t get the current you are expecting, it can be more than just a little frustrating. The mind quickly floods with questions like “How long will this take to figure out?” or “How much is this going to cost me?”
Fortunately, there are a few things you can try to quickly troubleshoot what’s wrong with a faulty electric outlet and whether or not you can fix it without professional help.
Step One: Take A Close Look At The Electric Outlet
Take a closer look at the face of the outlet to see if there are any signs of a short circuit or other obvious faults. This could be things like scorch marks, melted plastic, or even more alarming things like a buzzing sound or sizzling noise. Hold your hand close to the outlet without touching it. Does it give off a little heat? These are clear and obvious signs of a problem going on in the outlet or the connected wiring. This usually requires you to seek professional help. If you are concerned at all about a possible fire, you should go straight to the fuse box or breaker box and turn that specific panel off.
Step Two: Check The GFCI Switch
A Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter or GFCI outlet is more commonly found in bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms where the possible threat of water contacting electricity is highest. Though there are other rooms in the home that might have them including places like the mudroom, garage, and any exterior outlets. It’s essentially a tiny, yet highly sensitive fuse that is built into the outlet itself. Anytime there is a fault or a power surge, it trips. Most will have a tiny little light that lets you know the current state of the outlet. If it’s red, then you need to engage the little button in the face of the outlet to get it to work again.
If it immediately trips again, then the GFCI is telling you there is a more serious problem in the wiring or the workings of the outlet itself. This again will require the intervention of the trained and licensed professional electrician.
Step Three: Check the Fuse Or Breaker Panel
A breaker is essentially the more modern evolution of fuses. Rather than burning out as a fuse does, they flip the switch partially to break the circuit connection. This completely interrupts the flow of electrical current through the entire circuit path.Breakers can flip for a variety of reasons, though they are always related to safety. Sometimes this is a matter of a device that’s plugged into that circuit has a fault or a short-circuit. Such as an old toaster with a burned-out heating element. Another prime reason why a circuit breaker might flip is if the total number of devices or appliances connected to it exceeds the wattage capacity. This could be something like a kitchen outlet that has a lot of active appliances plugged in, and then a toaster oven or air fryer is turned on. The breaker then flips to prevent an overload. If you flip the breaker again and turn on the same number of appliances, chances are it will trip back to the off position. When it comes to most household breakers there are two common amperage ratings. A 15 Amp breaker can handle a maximum of 1,800 Watts. Whereas a 20 Amp breaker can handle up to 2,400 Watts. Most breakers have the rated amperage printed or stamped onto the switch. If you’ve recently purchased a new appliance that you need to run in a particular location or a specific outlet, and it continually trips an 18 Amp breaker, you may need to upgrade to a 20 Amp breaker. This is absolutely something you need to turn to a professional electrician to execute.
Step Four: Check The Appliance
If you are relatively certain that the circuit itself isn’t overloading the amperage of the fuse or breaker, and there isn’t a moisture issue with a GFCI outlet, then it might be the appliance itself. Sometimes something as simple as a blown heating element, a burned-out wire, or another internal manufacturing fault can cause the appliance to fail or short-circuit to the degree that it trips a breaker.
Try moving the suspect appliance to another room and plug it into an outlet on a different circuit breaker. If it still doesn’t turn on, or it blows the breaker in that room, then it’s likely a fault inside the appliance itself. In a situation like this, you might need to reach out to the manufacturer to see if it’s covered by a warranty.
Step Five: Test Another Device On The Outlet
It could be that the underlying wiring or a physical component in the outlet has failed. Especially if you’ve recently moved into the home and the previous owner didn’t disclose something like a dead outlet in the purchase order. If you can’t get even a low wattage, a simple device to work when plugged into the outlet, it might be a total failure in the wiring or the outlet connection. This is another time when you need to see the help of a licensed electrician.
Can I Rewire An Outlet Myself?
There has been more than one do-it-yourselfer who has come across a dead outlet, burned-out wire, or short-circuited device and thought “I can fix that!” On a mechanical level, you might indeed be able to rewire or replace the outlet. You might even be able to find an online video that walks you through how to replace a 15 Amp breaker with a 20 Amp breaker. However, these measures are not always safe for untrained individuals. It’s also worth noting that any improper wiring will likely be found during a home inspection when you go to later sell your home. At the same time, many homeowner’s insurance policies have fine print disclaimers that void or reduce coverage for fires that are due to improper wiring.
These risks are unnecessary when you consider how inexpensive it is for a licensed professional electrician to handle the repair, replacement, or upgrade.