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Breaker or Blown? Why my Outlet Doesn't Work

Electricity is something we rely on day and night. Whether running the blender for a breakfast smoothie or plugging in a night light, you need to have power. And you also need to have outlets to run that power.

But what happens after you pop the bananas and yogurt into the blender and…nothing?! The breaker hasn’t tripped, but the outlet is still dead as a doornail and just as useful.

Outlets can lose their power or appear “dead,” however in reality they may still be energized. “Most home outlets are connected together just like a string of holiday lights, so if you have a bad connection in one all the others down the line will not work,” said Rusty Wise, owner of Mister Sparky of Cherryville, NC. “Improper wiring and heavy electrical loads can cause the wiring to lose connection at the outlets or anywhere in the circuit.”

Did Your Circuit Breaker Trip?

When an outlet is malfunctioning or “dead,” we immediately think to check the circuit breaker. A circuit breaker is an automatic electrical switch that functions to interrupt current flow after a fault is detected. Most likely, you’ll find your circuit breakers in your home’s breaker box, typically located in the garage, basement, hall, or storage room.

When a circuit breaker trips, it switches from “on” to “off,” cutting off the power. The switch needs to be manually turned back on or flipped for electricity to move through the circuit again.

When the breaker flips, other appliances plugged into other outlets in the same room or area will also go out. This means those outlets were on the same circuit. Once the breaker is flipped for that area; all the outlets should be returned to working order.

But if it’s not the breaker, there might be an underlying issue at hand.

Common Causes of Non-working, Blown, or Broken Outlets

Tripped Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) Outlet

GFCI outlets are fast-acting outlets with a built-in breaker. They are quicker to trip, cutting off the supply of power to prevent electrical shock.

Should a GFCI outlet trip, simply, push the "RESET" button to reset the outlet. To learn more about suggested types of breakers, like GFCI outlets, check out our article titled ‘What You Need to Know About GFCI/AFCI Combination Breakers’.

Blown Fuse

Charred glass or broken filaments can lead to a broken outlet. According to The Spruce, for a typical 120-volt circuit, “fuses are small ceramic screw-in devices that fit into threaded sockets in the fuse panel, much the way lightbulbs screw into lamp sockets.”

Too many lights or plugged-in appliances draw power that can potentially overload the capacity of the fuse, causing it to blow. When the fuse blows, everything connected to that circuit goes dead.

Wear and Tear

Outlets have metal contact points that eventually wear down and loosen over time, which can increase resistance and heat, and eventually blown fuses in the electrical panel or a blown breaker. It’s important to replace worn-out power outlets immediately if they appear to be cracked or burnt.

Back-Stabbed Outlet

A “back-stabbed” outlet is a push-type wiring connection, meaning the wires are pushed into the back of an outlet instead of being secured by screws.

“Many homes are wired with push-type wiring during the construction process due to its quick installation by the contractor,” said Rusty. “Wrapping the wire around the outlet screws is best. The best way to wire outlets is to also pigtail the circuit eliminating the holiday light failure scenario.”

Loose Wires

Loose wires at connection points can generate a lot of heat and cause sparking in breaker boxes. Too much energy leads to arcing, which is extremely dangerous, resulting in fires or burns. If your outlet is sparking or if you see flames, immediately contact an electrician.

Wires can also stop working due to old age or damage from animals. So, keep a lookout for wires that are frayed or look like they have been chewed on.

Low-Quality Power Outlets

Some outlets are poorly made or were installed improperly. How long an outlet lasts depends on its quality. High-quality products will last longer and have fewer problems.

It’s easy to take for granted that our electricity will keep on running without interruption. When your outlets don’t work, it throws off your whole day. While there may be an easy fix – trudging to the basement to flip the breaker – non-working outlets could be indicative of a larger underlying issue. Because electrical work is delicate, often dangerous work, it’s best to contact an electrician to run a diagnostic on your outlets.

Contact your local Mister Sparky today at https://www.mistersparky.com/locations/!