What causes an electrical outlet to fail?

Updated February 21, 2017

When an electrical socket in your home suddenly stops working, you might find yourself wondering what caused the outlet to fail. Before you pick up the phone and call an electrician, take some time to figure out what might have caused the failure. In some cases, the solution is a simple fix that you can handle yourself.

Flipped Switch

Some electrical sockets are wired to wall switches for convenience. This practice allows you to turn a lamp or other appliance on and off by the wall switch instead of the switch on the electrical appliance. If you are experiencing a failed electrical socket somewhere in your home, test nearby wall switches first to verify if this is the cause of the problem.

Tripped Circuit

Sometimes a failed electrical socket is a simple matter of resetting the electrical circuits. Certain appliances can become overheated and trigger an automatic safety shut-off in the electrical system. If your home is wired to a circuit breaker panel, turn off the circuit breaker connected to the failed outlet. Wait about 30 seconds, and turn the breaker back on to reset the circuit. According to The Circuit, if the outlet is a ground-fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI outlet, press the reset button to restore power flow to the outlet.

Blown Fuse

In older homes that operate on a fuse box system, it is common for a fuse to blow. In some cases, blown fuses can knock out power to the entire house. Other times, one fuse may blow and cause the power to fail at one or more electrical sockets. If you replace the fuse associated with the failed outlet, it might resolve the electrical issue.

Defective Outlet

Sometimes an electrical socket can fail simply because it is a defective outlet. Electrical sockets can burn out over time due to age or frequent use. Electrical sockets are readily available at home improvement and hardware stores all over the country and are relatively inexpensive and simple to replace. If you have recently replaced an outlet which has failed, it is possible you purchased a defective outlet. Replace the outlet again to see if the problem is resolved.

Faulty Wiring

In some cases, faulty wiring can cause a failed electrical socket. A former homeowner or electrician might have wired the outlet incorrectly, which could result in a failure. The wiring in the building could also be damaged or loose due to age or inferior materials. If the electrical current does not reach the outlet through the home's wiring, it can result in a failure. Test the electrical current with a voltage meter to determine if power is flowing to the outlet.

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About the Author

Sara Melone is a mother of three and a graduate of UNH. With prior careers in insurance and finance, photography, as well as certifications in fitness and nutrition, Melone draws directly from past experience and varying interests. She contributes with equal passion to birth journals, investment blogs, and self-help websites.