As is the case with many difficulties around the home, the root cause of a dead outlet is not always the same. Unfortunately, this means that the appropriate fix can also vary from one situation to the next. Dead outlets are a nuisance and, if not handled properly, they can also be dangerous. Here are five things you can do to help identify both the problem and the solution to this common household trouble.
1.Check Other Nearby Outlets for Function
...when it comes to outlets that are not functioning at all, your very first step should be to check other outlets in the area.
The National Fire Prevention Agency suggests that homeowners call in a pro if they notice sparks come from an outlet or if an outlet gets very warm or discolored, but when it comes to outlets that are not functioning at all, your very first step should be to check other outlets in the area. Plug a lamp into any nearby outlets to assess if there is a problem with an entire circuit or if the problem is concentrated in a single outlet.
2.Note How Plugs Fit Into the Sockets
When you plug a device into an outlet, it should fit snugly and stay in place. Old outlets will eventually wear out, which causes their receptacles to become loose. If you plug something in and it doesn't stay, it's a sure sign that your outlet is past its prime and needs to be replaced.
GFCIs are a specific type of outlet that have both a "test" and a "reset" button. Typically found in areas like kitchens and bathrooms (as well as outdoors), an overload can cause these outlets to trip, much like the circuit breaker or fuse box in your home. Resetting the outlet may be the only solution you need, but a GFCI outlet that does not reset or trips over and over again is a sign of a larger problem that will likely need to be addressed by a certified electrician.
4.Check the Breaker Box
In situations where many outlets are dead, the main problem typically resides outside of a single outlet. Here, go to the breaker box and see if any of the switches have tripped. If so, flip the switch fully to "off" and then fully back to "on" again. Breakers may trip because the circuit they are attached too is carrying too heavy of a load; the solution here may be to unplug some devices from that particular circuit. Circuits should not get overloaded by a few small devices, however, so if you lighten the load and the issue continues, it's time to call in a pro.
5.Check the Outlet with Multiple Devices
In some cases, it is the device you are checking outlets with rather than the outlet itself that is malfunctioning. If you plug something in and it doesn't work--especially if it has been in storage--make sure to test the outlet again with a device you are sure is properly functioning.
Of course, electrical problems of all kinds can end up being pretty serious business if they are not handled properly. Expensive fixes can often be avoided, however, by having your home inspected by a certified professional. All components of a home will wear out eventually, but if they are replaced before they are allowed to fail spontaneously, you can protect the other elements of your home from being affected by that failure.
An inspector will be able to examine your entire electrical system from top to bottom, identifying potential problem areas as he/she goes. This is especially important for owners of older homes, as worn out components are more likely to be currently in use. Even old wiring can last a very long time, however, if it is properly maintained, and having a pro inspect your home is an important part of that maintenance process.