What to Do If Electrical Outlet Not Working but Breaker Not Tripped

Person preparing to install an electric wall outlet

If you have an electric outlet not working but the breaker is not tripped, your options are limited if you’re not an electrician. The first and only thing you should do after checking the breaker is to make sure the tripped outlet isn’t a GFCI outlet. If it is, press the reset button and see if the outlet is working properly again. If, however, the outlet is a standard one, the problem is likely more complicated and out of the scope of most DIY. Without the proper tools, training, and experience messing with electrical components can be dangerous. Therefore, you should contact a professional electrician immediately. Let’s go over all the things that a pro will check in order to get your outlet working again.

What You Can Do

When it comes to diagnosing and repairing the electric system in your home, the list of things that you can do yourself is limited. As mentioned, if you don’t have the proper tools, training, and electrical experience, you're likely to make the problem worse than it already is. In addition, there is always the possibility you could get injured in the process. So, when it comes to electrical repair, knowing your limitations, and when to call in a pro can save you time, money and ensure your safety.

GFCI Outlet Reset Button

One thing you can do safely is to inspect the outlet in question. If one or multiple electric outlets are not working but the beaker isn’t tripped, check to see what kind of outlet(s) they are. If it is a GFIC (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlet, the fix might be a relatively simple one.

These outlets are typically used in areas of high moisture (kitchens and bathrooms) to protect your electrical system. They are designed to shut off power to the outlet when an electrical overload is detected. It’s possible that a circuit overload tripped the outlet, and it just needs to be reset. In the middle of each GFCI outlet there are two small buttons (with reset printed on one). When tripped, the reset button will be raised, so all you need to do to restore power to the outlet push the reset button in (to reset the outlet). You should hear a ‘click’ indicating the outlet has been reset. If, however, this doesn’t solve the problem, contact an electrician to investigate further.

Note: If you notice burn marks or charring around the outlet, don’t attempt to reset it (even if it is a GFIC outlet). This could be an indication of a more serious problem that requires professional service.

Related Topic: Electrical Tester – How to Use One

What a Pro Should Do

Professional electricians are specially licensed, trained, and equipped to handle problems just like this. So, now that we’ve covered what you can do to resolve the issue, let's review what a pro will look for:

Loose Outlet

One of the first things a professional electrician will check for is a loose outlet or outlet box. If either the outlet or the electrical box is loose, it could interrupt power to the outlet. As items are repeatedly plugged in and removed from an outlet, it can cause the outlet to move and shift, which can loosen it over time. The wires inside the box could become loose as well. A loose outlet is not only inconvenient, it can also be dangerous and result in electrical shock.

Loose Wiring

The leading cause of an electrical outlet switch not working is loose wiring. Older outlets in particular are prone to loose wiring because of how the wiring was initially installed. Outlets come with two options for wire attachment: rear slots, or outlet screws. Depending on who installed the outlet and did the wiring, they may have used the rear slots, which are more prone to electrical problems.

However, using electrical screws to secure a wire to an outlet box is only safer if the electrician knows what they’re doing. Both methods can result in a wire coming loose which will affect power flowing to the outlet. Either way, a professional electrician will be able to spot loose wiring quickly and repair it.

Damaged Breaker

You might be tempted simply to replace your malfunctioning outlet with a new one. If, however, your electrical outlet still is not working after replacing it, you likely have a damaged breaker. Circuit breakers are stout and long-lasting electrical devices, but they’re not invincible. An electrical surge or short can cause the breaker to malfunction and trip, which could result in damage to the breaker. Testing and replacing a breaker is extremely dangerous and something you should definitely leave to a pro.

Dedicated Circuit Needed

Depending on the location of the breaker and what it’s powering, there’s a chance that it could be overloaded. This will usually trip the breaker. There’s also a chance that an overloaded breaker will fail completely. In this case, replacing the outlet and/or breaker won’t do any good because the same problem will continue to happen. Only a professional electrician can accurately test the amount of electricity (load) on a specific circuit to determine if it is overloaded and tripping the breaker and/or the outlet. If this is the case, the outlet will have to be rewired to a different outlet, or your panel box will have to be updated.

Testing Your Wiring

A GFIC outlet that occasionally trips is not that big a deal. However, if you have an outlet or outlets that trip often, it could be a sign of a bigger problem. To ensure your electrical system is operating properly and safely, have is checked by a licensed electrician. The professionals at Mr. Electric have the training, tools, and expertise to diagnose your electrical system and make recommendations on ways to improve its overall efficiency. Give a call at 844.966.1367 or make an appointment online.