How To Look At A House

McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of  

site-built, mobile/manufactured and modular homes

How can I troubleshoot a dead receptacle outlet?

Saturday, August 31, 2019

It’s often something simple that is easily fixed, and here’s three things to check before calling an electrician. First plug a nightlight or small lamp (that you have already confirmed works at another outlet) into the receptacle, so you know when it’s fixed.

  1. It may be that the receptacle is controlled by a wall switch in the room. This is common in newer houses, and the switched receptacle is sometimes turned upside-down (ground hole up) or has a small dot or red screw on the faceplate as an indicator. See our blog post How can I figure out what a mystery wall switch does? for more on unusual switch configurations.
  2. You have probably already tried it, but double-check that the breaker is not tripped at the electric panel. Some breakers trip to the middle position and need to be pushed all the way to the OFF position, then back again, in order to reset. Do you have any subpanels in the house? The breaker that is the culprit may be in a smaller panel elsewehere in the house, which often happens when there has been a major home addition.
  3. Check to see if any GFCI-outlets (the ones with the two buttons in the center) are tripped, including in other rooms. Electricians put a single GFCI-outlet at the first outlet in a string of a half dozen or more that loop around the house, and it provides shock protection to everything downstream. Ordinarily, GFCI-protected outlets are only in wet areas, but not always. A GFCI-receptacle in the garage, for example, is often part of a circuit to all the exterior receptacles, but a back porch enclosure can turn an exterior receptacle into an interior one. Also, sometimes dining room receptacles are protected by a GFCI in the kitchen, or a GFCI in the laundry protects a receptacle in an adjacent room. For more on this, see our blog post A receptacle outlet is dead and I think I tripped a GFCI, but can't locate it. Where do I find the GFCI reset?

    If none of these checks get it done, then it’s time to call an electrician. However, if you know enough about receptacle outlets to pull the receptacle and check the wire connections, you might give that a try before you give up. Just make sure the breaker is off at the panel first.

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  To learn more about electrical wiring, devices, and receptacles, see these other blog posts:

 • What is the difference between what trips a GFCI (ground fault) receptacle and a circuit breaker?

Why is an opening in the wall around the side of an electrical receptacle outlet a safety defect?  

When was GFCI-protection for kitchen dishwasher receptacle outlet first required? 

When should I replace electric receptacle outlets? 

What are "self-contained" electrical receptacle outlets and switches?

What is the difference between an electrical receptacle, an outlet, and a plug?

Does a washing machine receptacle outlet require GFCI protection?

What is the building code requirement for receptacle outlets at stairs and stair landings?

What is a "backstab" receptacle outlet? 

Why are some electric receptacle outlets upside down (ground slot up) in a house?   

What is the height requirement for an electric receptacle outlet? 

Where are GFCI receptacle outlets required?

 Does a home inspector remove receptacle outlet cover plates?

When was the current receptacle/outlet spacing of 12-feet first required? 

When was the three-slot (grounding) outlet/receptacle first required? 

Why does painting an electric receptacle (outlet) make it unsafe?

Why are electrical outlets and plugs polarized? 

How many electrical receptacles (outlets) are required in a hallway?  

Is a house required to have outdoor electric receptacle outlets?

How I can tell if a receptacle outlet is tamper resistant?

What is a false ground, bootleg ground, or cheated ground receptacle? 

How can adding wood paneling or a wainscot create an electrical safety hazard?

How far apart should kitchen counter receptacles be spaced?  

What is reversed polarity at an outlet/receptacle? Why is it dangerous? 

Is an ungrounded electric receptacle outlet dangerous?

My bathroom electric receptacle/outlet is dead and there are no tripped breakers in the electric panel. What's wrong?  

Is there an adapter that can be placed on a two-slot receptacle to make it safe? 

How do the new tamper-resistant electric outlets work?

Why is there no bathroom electric receptacle in this old house?

How can I tell if the electric receptacle outlets are grounded? 

How far apart should the electrical receptacles be placed?

What are the most common problems/defects found with electric receptacle outlets during a home inspection?

    Visit our ELECTRICAL page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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