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Dealing with electrical problems can always be a bit nerve-wracking, especially if you’re not accustomed to working with wires and outlets.
When an outlet goes out and then comes back on, there’s certainly a problem, but it’s challenging to know what the issue is exactly.
If an outlet stops and then starts working again, it’s likely no breaker has flipped. The fuse box isn’t going to solve your problems.
The outlet is getting intermittent power for other reasons like loose connections or bad wires. There is also such a thing as dead outlets that simply run out of lifespan.
Unreliable outlets are frustrating, particularly if they’re located where you need constant power, such as in a kitchen or your home office.
Knowing how to troubleshoot the issue is your first step to finding out what’s wrong and how to fix it. Here are seven tips on where your troubles might be coming from.
Table of Contents
You May Have a Dead Outlet
Outlets are simple devices that are generally very durable. They’ll last for years, or even decades without issue unless something else damages them.
However, some outlets die for no other reason than they’ve run their course. This is called a dead outlet. They simply wear out and won’t work anymore.
Typically, the more heavily you use an outlet, the faster it will wear out and die.
If you live in an older house or have no idea how long the outlet receptacles have been there, try switching them out if you’re encountering performance issues.
Rather than break any drywall or mess with the wiring, you could just need a new outlet to make things work again.
Hiring a professional electrician is a smart idea unless you know what you’re doing.
If you want to try to switch the outlet yourself, take all precautions like turning off the power and using rubber-coated tools while working.
Damaged wires are a common culprit. Outlets that are getting intermittent power often suffer from poor power sources.
What can damage wires inside your walls that you can’t see?
In addition, any falling debris can knock the wire around and change its position, thereby impacting the connection to your outlet.
You can sometimes spot damaged wires by listening for buzzing sounds near your outlet or burn marks on your walls or the outlet receptacle.
Old wires also have a way of wearing down, which also affects the outlet connection.
If you recently remodeled or built your home, the issue could be that the wires were damaged when they were installed. They will need to be replaced to fix the outlet.
Loose Wire Connections
Perhaps your wires are in decent condition. If that’s the case, your intermittent power connection may result from loose wires.
If your outlet receptacle shifts position every time you plug something in or push against it, it’s easier for the wires to shake free.
They could be moving ever so slightly every time you use the outlet.
Eventually, those wires are going to come loose, and the connection will be in and out. You’ll only get power when the wires are touching the outlet receptacle.
The wrong push or a move in the opposite direction is enough to cut off electricity.
Typically, your wires are wrapped around knobs in the receptacle to better maintain the connection long-term.
When wires are pulled or frayed too much, they can come off the knob partially or entirely.
Outlets Controlled by Light Switches
If you’re in a new house or a hotel, the intermittent power from an outlet could be caused by a nearby light switch.
Switch-controlled outlets are standard in some places but aren’t the norm in the United States.
When you first encounter them, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher because sometimes the outlet will work, and then other times it won’t.
Look for light switches either on the outlet or nearby. Give them a flip and see if that solves your problem.
Occasionally, when the connection is poor or too much electricity is running through your wires, your outlet can burn out and stop working.
Before it goes completely dead, it’s normal to experience flickering lights and appliances that turn on and off again rapidly.
If you see black or brown marks on your outlet where your plug goes in, it’s a sign of a burnt outlet. You should replace the receptacle before it goes dead or starts a fire.
A Bad Plug
Of course, the problem could be completely unrelated to the outlet. A damaged plug or broken appliance could make you think you have outlet issues.
Your power could be on the entire time. You just think it’s going out because your toaster or a certain phone charger isn’t working in the outlet.
Before you call for an electrician or unscrew outlet plates, take the device to another outlet to test it out. Likewise, plug other things into what you think is the lousy outlet to see if they work.
If the same thing is happening with one device at several outlets, it’s more likely that you’ve got a bad plug or there is an internal fuse issue with your device.
Does Flipping the Breaker Work?
Usually, an outlet that stops working and starts again isn’t the result of a breaker flipping.
If the breaker is off in your fuse box, your outlet shouldn’t work at all. If it still works, you’ve got some wiring issues you need to take care of as soon as possible.
You’ll also want to check whether your outlet has a GFCI button. It could be something else in your house tripped the GFCI, and all you need to do is press the button on the outlet to get it working again.
Sometimes overloading in other areas of your home might interrupt the power supply to certain outlets.
Depending on your wiring, overloading may not cause a breaker to flip unless the surge is stronger.
It may, however, be enough to stop your outlet from working properly when you want to have a lamp on or turn on the bread maker.
When to Call an Electrician
It’s always a good idea to call an electrician when you are getting intermittent power from an outlet.
Bad wires or circuits are a safety hazard that requires immediate attention.
Don’t brush off a faulty outlet and keep using it until it fails.
Faulty outlets could indicate overloading in some other part of your house or property, and it’s both a fire risk and could injure someone when they plug into the damaged outlet or use electricity in other parts of the home.