How to fix a dead electrical outlet.

· Residential Electricity 102
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Summary
➳  Because it can be hard to spot a tripped breaker it is best to turn off ALL the circuit breakers and then turn them back on.
➳ Unscrew the bad fuse and replace it with the same amperage (amp) size; either 15 or 20 amp and the same style; either the wide Edison base plug fuse or the skinny base Type-S fuse. The wrong style/amperage of fuse can screw in but not make a connection!

 Find all the GFI outlets in your house and press the “TEST” button to trip it off. You should hear a “Pop” sound when you trip the GFI off.   Next, press the “RESET” button to turn it back on.    Look for GFI outlets’s in;  Bathrooms, basements, garages, laundry rooms, kitchens and outside.
➳ Flip all nearby wall switches up, one at a time to see if your outlet comes on.
➳ Remove the wire nuts (wire caps), twist the wires together tightly and then twist on a new wire nut.
➳ Pull the wires out of the outlet’s “stab in” holes and wrap the wires around the terminal screws.

1) Reset ALL circuit breakers
Your outlet, or receptacle, might be dead because the fuse blew or the breaker tripped. You may have looked right at the blown fuse or tripped breaker and NOT noticed that it is off.  You may have looked in the wrong panel box.

Go to the electrical panel and find the blown fuse or tripped breaker.
Keep in mind your house might have more than one electrical panel. Some old farm homes have breakers in a panel inside the house and more breakers outside in the meter box. If there are breakers at your meter they will be inside an easy to open door. (Don’t unscrew any panels) The meter might have only one breaker; the main breaker. You are looking for an individual circuit fuse or breaker, but not the main.

If you have circuit breakers:

From Lowes.com

  A tripped breaker can be hard to spot because the handle moves to the center position, not the off position, and can appear to be in the on position.

   Sometimes you can feel a tripped breaker better than see it. The handle of a breaker that is on or off is somewhat hard to move compared to the handle of a tripped breaker which will wiggle easily.
   The handle of a tripped breaker will be positioned somewhere in the middle between the off position and the on position.
  A tripped breaker will not go from the tripped position to the on position, you have to turn it off first.
 If you find the tripped breaker, turn it off to reset it, then turn it back on.
  Because it can be hard to spot a tripped breaker it is best to turn off ALL the circuit breakers and then turn them back on.
  1. If you find a breaker that trips again, you may have a defective item plugged into an outlet. Unplug everything that is plugged into any dead outlets on the tripped circuit.
  2. Turn the breaker back on, if it holds then there is something defective in one of the items you unplugged. Throw that item away or have it repaired by a professional.
  3. If it trips again, with nothing plugged in, you may have a defective ceiling light that is on the same breaker with your dead outlet. Find all the lights that don’t work because the breaker is off, and make sure to leave the switches for those lights in the off position.
  4. Turn the breaker back on, if it holds then there is something defective in one of those lights you turned off. Turn those wall switches back on, one at a time. The light that trips the breaker when you turn it on is the problem. 
  5. Sometimes a light bulb is defective and can trip a breaker. Remove the light bulbs from the problem light and turn the breaker back on. If the breaker holds, throw all those light bulbs away and install new ones.
  6. If it trips again, have a professional replace or repair the light. Or, turn off all the circuit breakers and check the light’s wiring connections in the light box, make sure no copper is exposed and the wires are not pinched between metal parts.

   If you have Fuses:

One dead outlet will not be on a large “push in” type cartridge fuse, instead look for a small round “Edison based” fuse that “screws in” like a light bulb. A blown fuse will usually look burnt inside the little window on top of the fuse or the wire inside will look broken, not connected from one side of the fuse to the other. 
 Unscrew the bad fuse and replace it with the same amperage (amp) size; either 15 or 20 amp and the same style; either the wide Edison base plug fuse or the skinny base Type-S fuse shown in the drawing below.
The amps should be written on the fuse. Do not use a larger number than the original, if you do it will allow more amps to flow through your wiring. The amount of amps that a wire can handle has more to do with the insulation than the copper but most size 14 gauge copper wiring can handle 15 amps and size 12 gauge wiring can handle 20 amps and size 10 gauge, 30 amps.

   The Wide Edison Based Plug Fuse

The older Edison base plug fuses have a single wide size socket for all amperages. Their socket looks like the socket of a standard screw in light bulb. These fuses are interchangeable, a 15 amp fuse will fit in a 20 amp socket and a 20 amp fuse will fit in a 15 amp socket which, if you think about it, is dangerous because you will be overloading 20 amps on 15 amp wiring. To prevent this hazard they designed the Type S safety fuse.

   The Skinny Based Type-S Fuse

This is a newer fuse design that has a skinny socket like the socket for a candelabra light bulb.
The design  prevents larger amp fuses from being installed into smaller circuits.
  A Type S fuse will not fit in an older Edison base socket.
  A 20 amp Type S will screw into a 15 amp type S socket but it will not make contact and the circuit will be dead. You will look at the fuse and it looks good, it is screwed in all the way in but the circuit is not on because they designed it to not work when you install a fuse with the wrong amperage.
Be sure you have the correct size fuse.
Figure 11.18. Types of Fuses
The drawing above shows fuses, not breakers.
The 2 “screw in” type plug fuses on the top are for lights and outlets. The larger cartridge fuses on the
bottom are for big things like an oven or air conditioner or even the main. If all your outlets are dead,
then it could be the main.  If only one outlet is dead, it is most likely a plug fuse not a cartridge fuse.
Photo from http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/publications/books/housing/figure_cha11.htm 
 

 2) Reset all GFI outlets

Weather you call it a GFI; Ground Fault Interrupter or a GFCI; Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, your outlet might be dead because of a tripped GFI outlet that is located in another part of the house.

From Amazon.com

☚  Find all the GFI outlets in your house and press the “TEST” button to trip it off. You should hear a “Pop” sound when you trip the GFI off.

   Next, press the “RESET” button to turn it back on. 
   Look for GFI outlets’s in;  Bathrooms, basements, garages, laundry rooms, kitchens and outside.
   GFI outlets can turn off power to other outlets just like a circuit breaker.
Circuit breakers protect the circuit from an overload. GFI’s protect people from getting shocked.
GFI’s are designed to ‘interrupt’ or turn off a circuit (a collection of outlets) if a fault or electrical shock hazard is happening. GFI’s have a “TEST” and “RESET” button on the receptacle. When a GFI trips or when you press the “TEST” button it will turn off power to the GFI and to other standard receptacles that are connected to it. For example;
  • One tripped GFI at a hall bathroom sink can turn off power to itself and to another standard receptacle at the master bathroom sink.
  • One GFI outlet in a garage can turn off all the outlets on the garage walls and outside outlets.
  •  A master bathroom hot tub is often controlled by a GFI outlet hiding in the nearby master closet or under the tub where the motor is plugged in.
 If you reset the GFI and it trips again, it may be the fault of something you plugged in. Something like a defective hair dryer or an extension cord outside in a puddle of water.
Unplug everything that is plugged into the GFI and to the other dead outlets that the GFI controls.
Try to reset the GFI again.

 3) Flip on all wall switches

   Find a radio or lamp and plug it in to a working outlet. Turn it on, make sure it works, leave it on and then plug it into the dead outlet.
    Flip all nearby wall switches up, one at a time to see if your dead outlet makes the lamp or radio comes on. 
   Some receptacles are controlled by a wall switch. The most common is the receptacle under the sink for the garbage disposal. When the switch is off the whole receptacle, top and bottom, is dead. Flip the switch on and the whole receptacle is hot.
   A wall switch can also control half of a receptacle. It is common to wire a wall switch to control the top half of all the receptacles in a bedroom or living room. Flip the switch off and the top half of 6 receptacles in a room turn off while the 6 bottom halves remain on. The idea is to plug a lamp into the switched half and a clock or TV into the half that remains on. The switched half can be the top half or the bottom half.
Here is some advanced information on how a 1/2 switched receptacle is wired
 
There is one more thing you can check but you may need help with this one.

 4)   Tighten Connections

A difficult check for those who are more experienced with electricity.

This test is to check for good, tight wiring connections;

       ✦ Connections at the wire nuts (if there are any) located inside the box, behind the receptacle.
       ✦ Connection of the wires onto the receptacle’s terminal or insert.

When an electrician first installs a new receptacle in your house they have a choice on how to make the connections;
   1) They can connect same colored wires together with a wire nut and short wire, called a pigtail, from the
      wire nut to the outlet. OR
   2) They can connect the wires directly to the outlet.
When wire nuts are used it is important to twist the ends together tightly before capping the exposed copper with the wire nut.

 Remove the wire nuts (wire caps), twist the wires together tightly and then twist on a new wire nut.
If the wires are not twisted tightly, one wire can come loose and break the flow of electricity even though it is still inside the wire nut.

After an electrician decides weather to use wire nuts with a pigtail or wire direct, they have another choice on how to connect the wires to the outlet;
   > The hot and neutral wires can be wrapped around a terminal screw OR
   > Inserted or “stabbed in” into a small hole at the back near each individual terminal screw.
    Wires that are “stabbed in” tend to come loose after 10 to 15 years.
 Pull the wires out of the outlet’s “stab in” holes and wrap the wires around the terminal screws. 
The following test requires some knowledge of electricity. Do not attempt this fix if you are uncertain of your abilities;
  1.    Turn off all your breakers in all your electrical panels.
  2.    Test the receptacle or outlet to be sure it is dead.
  3.    Unscrew the plate screw and remove the plate.
  4.    Unscrew the top and bottom outlet mounting screws from the wall box.
  5.    Pull the receptacle out of the box and check to see if all the wires are attached tightly to it. If a wire is hanging loose, wrap the stripped end around the appropriate terminal screw. ( black wire on the gold screw or small slot side and white neutral on the silver or long slot side)
  6.    If wires inside the box are connected with a wire nut, unscrew the nut to see if the stripped copper connections under the nut are twisted together tightly. Replace the wire nuts.
  7.    Before you remount the outlet to the box being sure of the following;
    • - Make sure you replaced the wire nuts and they are screwed on tightly.
    • - The black wires are on the gold terminal screws at the short slot side of the receptacle and the white neutral wires are on the silver terminal screws at the long slot side and the bare copper ground is on the green ground screw.
    • - As you move the outlet into position, keep the bare ground wire from touching the 2 hot and 2 neutral terminal screws on the receptacle.
  8.    Screw the top and bottom mounting screws into the box.
  9.    Replace the plate and turn all the breakers back on.
If the outlet is still dead, there may be a loose wire inside an outlet box at a nearby, working outlet.
This loose wire needs to be reconnected to the hot outlet in order to send power to your dead one.
Repeat the 9 step check list above for any of the following working receptacles:
  • The receptacle to the left of your dead receptacle.
  • The receptacle to the right of the dead one.
  • The nearby receptacle on the other side of the same wall in another room, at the left of your dead one.
  • The nearby receptacle on the other side of the same wall in another room, at the right of the dead one.
Good luck! Jim

 

If you enjoy working with electricity you might want to become an electrician;
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