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Do Electrical Outlets Wear Out or Go Bad?

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Figuring out what’s going on with a malfunctioning outlet can be challenging. It can also be dangerous if you’re not used to dealing with circuits and fuse boxes.

Before you jump to conclusions about potential electrical fires, you should know that electrical outlets occasionally wear out and go bad. They’re called dead outlets.

It doesn’t happen often because modern outlets are made of durable materials. Outlets are also relatively simple devices, so it’s hard for things to go wrong.

Why would an outlet stop working? What should you do? Here’s how you can spot a dead outlet and stay safe while dealing with the issue.

Wall socket installation a screw on an electrical outlet

Do Electrical Outlets Go Bad?

Outlets sometimes go bad. They don’t have an infinite lifespan, so at some point you will need to switch your outlets.

The pace at which outlets go bad will depend on how much you use them, the quality of the materials, and how much current is flowing through them.

Outlets that are used heavily will typically wear out faster than those used sparingly.

Here’s how you can tell whether your outlet is worn out.

  • Test Multiple Devices – The problem could be whatever you are plugging into the outlet. It’s easy to think that the hair dryer or toaster you use all the time is still working fine.

    However, sometimes people think an outlet is dead when the problem is the device they are plugging in.

    To ensure it’s the outlet, plug some phone chargers, speakers, and other devices into the outlet to see if they charge. If none of them work, then the outlet is the problem.
  • Try Other Outlets – Your problem could be more significant than one isolated outlet. Sometimes, issues with wires or your fuse box will knock out several outlets.

    A dead outlet shouldn’t impact other outlets, but if you have shoddy electrical work or live in an older home, one bad outlet can affect the performance of others.
  • Check the Fuse Box – Of course, you should check the fuse box for any tripped breakers anytime an outlet doesn’t work.

    The breakers are there to prevent any extreme danger or overloading. You may have a breaker that only runs to one outlet and several lights.

    If, for example, your breaker is for a single room with only one outlet, you could make the mistake of thinking you had a dead outlet when the breaker for that room flipped.
Electricians Testing Electrical Wires

Looking for Signs Your Outlet Is Bad

How can you tell you have a bad outlet? The most obvious sign is when, all things being equal, your outlet doesn’t work. On the other hand, you may have a dead outlet if you’ve done all the necessary checks and ruled out other causes.

You can also look for visual signs that your outlet is dead. For instance, if your outlet has any visible burn marks, it may be at the end of its lifespan.

The discoloration indicates that the outlet has been there too long and needs to be switched.

Electric Outlet Installation

Dead Outlet vs. Bad Outlet

A dead outlet simply dies and won’t work anymore, but a bad outlet can keep working intermittently or with increased safety risks.

Sometimes an outlet goes bad and cannot manage the load of whatever is running through the wires and into your appliances. If you hear a buzzing noise, smell something burning, or sense heat radiating, you should turn off whatever you’re powering and unplug it from the outlet.

Another sign of a bad outlet is when things start turning off and on intermittently. For example, if you plug in a lamp and the lightbulb flickers, the problem could be with your outlet.

Homes with Old Electrical Systems

Modern safety and building codes require updated electrical circuits and components.

However, the degree to which municipalities mandate upgraded electrical systems varies based on where you live. Some states are stricter, and others will let homeowners get away with a lot.

Bad outlets are more likely in older electrical systems. This is because there aren’t as many fail-safes or safety precautions built in. In addition, the age of the components makes it more likely for an outlet to go bad.

If you live in an older home with outdated electrical systems or you’re buying a place and the inspection indicates you need updates, we recommend scheduling the work as soon as possible.

Updating old electrical systems can cost thousands of dollars, but it’s a wise investment to make in your property.

Series of electrician install and mount electrical power socket onto wall

How to Fix a Bad Outlet

Fixing a bad outlet is not something you should take lightly. It’s not at all like changing a lightbulb or throwing some spackle on a hole in your drywall.

We recommend working with a licensed electrician anytime you need to change your electrical system.

They’ll know what meets the safety code and will help you avoid any safety issues down the road. Moreover, they’ll keep you and anyone else in the house safe.

Avoid going into your walls or touching any wires unless you’re very familiar with electrical work. If you’re dead set on doing it yourself, make sure you turn off the power, use tools designed for electric work, and have all the required security precautions in place.

Outlets are affordable, so replacing the outlet entirely is usually the best option. However, you can buy a variety of modern outlets at a low price that will last you for years.

Preparing to install an electrical outlet

Choosing the Right Type of New Outlet

You have a lot of options when changing a bad outlet. It’s up to you whether you switch a dead outlet for a new standard outlet or opt for something fancier, like a smart outlet that you can control and schedule from your phone.

Some outlets light up when you come near them. You can also purchase outlets with multiple USB charging ports for phones, tablets, and watches.

When an outlet goes bad, think of it as an opportunity to upgrade your house and make it more user-friendly. You may just end up replacing more outlets once you see how great newer outlet features are.

One of the best things you can do is hire a reputable, licensed electrician to handle any work on your system.

Read online reviews to find a good company or ask friends for a recommendation. Then, give a few companies a call and talk to them about your situation.

Most of them will give you a free estimate over the phone and help you schedule an appointment with an electrician.

Ask them what they would do if they were in your situation. Then, make a plan to upgrade any outdated electrical system parts to improve your house’s safety and long-term performance.


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