Outlet Stopped Working, Breaker Not Tripped - What To Do?
When the power outlet loses power, the most probable reason is tripped circuit breaker or a blown a fuse.
But, in some situations, the outlet may stop working without the circuit breaker being tripped. When that happens, what can one do to solve the problem?
Updated: October 19, 2022.
When one or more power outlets are not working, but the electric breaker is not tripped, there are several things one should do to quickly diagnose the possible issues and hopefully solve the problem.
Check the Wall Outlet
First thing first - if You suspect that there is an issue with a wall outlet, check if the power is present.
This can be done easily using a simple voltage tester/tester pen or some similar device.
Such devices are cheap and reliable, and having one can always come in rather handy.
After verifying that the wall outlet has really lost power, other things can be verified as well.
Check the Circuit Breakers
When the power outlets are not working, check the electric breakers and find the ones that are tripped - if they are tripped.
If they are not tripped, locate the electric breaker that protects the power outlets that are having issues and reset it by placing it in position Off, wait a few seconds, and place it back to position On.
If the breaker doesn't stay in the On position, there is some electric issue with electric wiring or appliances protected by that particular electric breaker.
Check the GFCIs Outlet
GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) outlets offer an additional layer of protection, and in certain situations, they may also trip/switch Off.
If that happens, locate the reset button and push it back into the receptacle to restore power to the outlet.
If the GFCI outlet continues to trip without any load being plugged in, there is some issue with the wiring or the GFCI outlet itself.
Note: If there is only ONE GFCI outlet connected to the electric circuit, tripped GFCI outlet will also keep other outlets without power.
Check Other Outlets
If one power outlet is dead, and everything is OK with the circuit breakers or GFCI outlet(s), check other outlets if they are dead.
After finding out which ones have power and which ones don't, one can localize the electric problem more accurately, especially if the house wiring scheme is available (it should be ...).
After pinpointing where the issue is, one can resolve it more easily or call for assistance - a professional electrician, for example!
Some homes have half-hot power outlets - power outlets with power switches usually located on the wall nearby. Such wall switches provide an additional level of safety, but sometimes one can simply forget about them.
In that case, check if the power outlet is a half-hot outlet, and if it is, switch it On - it will work better ...
However, not every time can the problem be simple and easy to locate and resolve. Often, the problem is much more complex ...
Damaged Wires/Bad Wiring
Damaged wires can be the result of renovations and similar tasks being carried out without paying enough attention to where electric and other installations are.
Drilling near wires in the walls can be hazardous, but sometimes people get so "lucky" that they just damage neutral wire with their drill bit. A such wire may continue to operate for some time, but it will fail sooner or later, and finding the exact position can be a daunting task - it can be done using highly specialized test instruments that are beyond the scope of this article.
Note: If You are unsure about hitting a cable in the wall with your drill bit, don't worry, in most situations, one is always 100% sure if the cable was hit or not - there would be a short flash of light with a big bang and smoke from the wall where the drill bit hit the cable and the electric breaker will trip. Also, depending on the electric breaker class and quality, You may also experience a little electric shock...
If You suspect that the wire is faulty, the easiest thing to do is to measure its resistance from the electric breaker (phase, neutral, ground wires) to the wall outlet - all three wires should read almost zero resistance. Of course, such tasks are carried out while the electric breaker is in the OFF position.
Personally, electric installations are designed and built to last for decades, so don't go cheap with wires, electric breakers, and other items that should serve You for decades to come. Also, a good electrician laying installations as planned and documenting everything cannot be too expensive.
Damaged Breaker/Blown Fuse
Automatic electric breakers have two stable positions, On and Off. In the On position, the wall outlet has power, and in the Off position, the wall outlet has no power.
If the breaker is damaged, it is possible that the breaker is in the Off position, but the wall outlet still has power - whenever the electric breaker has its status changed, verify if the power is present or not on the breaker itself and in the wall outlet using a simple voltage tester.
Also, if the breaker is damaged, it is possible that the electric breaker is in the ON position, but the wall outlet has no power.
In that case, the electric breaker should be replaced with the electric breaker of the same amperage.
If the power line features an electric fuse that appears intact, check its condition - it may appear good, but perhaps it is blown, preventing normal operation of the wall power outlets or other segments of the electric system.
Loose Wires/Bad Connections
When diagnosed, loose wires and bad connections can be easily solved.
However, finding out where the problem can be difficult since the loose wires can operate well for some time and then cause issues and then revert back to having good contacts - just a little "nudge" at the electric cabinet/junction box/wall socket can improve the contacts, but sooner or later, they will fail again.
If something like that happens, take your toolbox and check and tighten all the contacts and wires even if they don't look suspicious - nobody would leave them in such condition in the first place, after all.
Loose connections should never happen, but they do.
When the outlet stops working without tripping the breaker, and the wiring looks good, perhaps the outlet itself - died.
This can happen, too, although not very often - contacts eventually wear out, parts of the wall outlet break, etc.
In that case, set the electric breaker in the Off position, recheck the voltage/power at the wall outlet and replace it with a new one.
If the wall outlet stopped working and the electric breaker is in its On position, check the appliance/tool/gadget/device that is being powered by the seemingly dead wall outlet.
Perhaps there is an issue with the appliance's plug, power cord, appliance's internal fuse (if present), or the appliance simply died.
First, check the wall outlet to see if the power is present using either a line tester (voltage tester) or some similar instrument or plug another device that is working properly using another wall power outlet.
After confirming that the wall outlet is good and that the power is present, check the device.
If the device is under warranty, claim your warranty. If it is out of the warranty period, either repair it (certified shops or dealerships are highly recommended, although not always the cheapest ones) or recycle it and get a new one.
Of course, there are other reasons why a wall outlet may appear dead without tripping the electric breaker or blowing a fuse, but these are the most common ones.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most common Frequently Asked Questions about wall socket power issues that may appear in their everyday use.
Can an outlet fail without tripping the breaker or blowing the fuze?
Yes, the outlet can fail without tripping the breaker - failed or dead outlet means that the power is not present, and this can be caused not only by tripped breaker (which is not in this case) but can be also caused by damaged electric breakers, bad/loose wiring, failing connectors, and similar.
Such problems can be solved, but whatever You do - stay safe!
Why would an outlet suddenly stop working?
Because it has lost power - breaker tripped, breaker got damaged, wires got damaged, loose wires, bad connections, failing connectors, etc.
How do I fix an outlet with no power?
Call a certified electrician and let him/her deal with your problem. Also, You will get a short warranty for his/her work and replaced parts.
But, if You want to solve it on your own, be sure to stay safe - check the electric breaker (if it tripped, if it is damaged), check the wire connections, check the connectors, and check the wall outlet for any visible damage, if it is GFCI outlet or not, if it is a half-hot outlet and similar.
Also, check the appliance that is using that outlet if it is working properly or not using another wall outlet.
Can an outlet just go bad?
Yes, it can. Over time, the connector can go bad, or wires can get loose, or some plastic parts can get broken, etc.
How can you tell if an electrical outlet is bad?
Check it for broken parts, bad connectors, loose wires, and similar - it should not show signs of any damage.
Why would only certain outlets stop working?
If more than one wall outlet stopped working, then check their common breaker and wiring.
How do you reset a dead outlet?
If the outlet is a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) outlet, locate its reset button and reset the outlet.
If the outlet is not a GFCI outlet, check if there is at least one GFCI outlet connected to the same electric circuit and reset it.
If there are no GFCI outlets, a common outlet cannot be "reset" - check the electric breaker, wiring, and connections ...
Can a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) outlet cause other outlets not to work?
Yes, tripped GFCI outlet will cause other outlets connected to the same electric circuit to lose power.
Even if You don't live in an area with high moisture and humidity, GFCI outlets increase overall safety and are highly recommended.
If Your GFCI outlet must be replaced, the safest thing to do is to let a professional electrician replace it.
What to do when multiple outlets stop working?
Check what those multiple outlets have in common - for example, maybe there is a single or more GFCI outlets on the same electric circuit, or their electric breaker tripped.
Also, if possible, check the wiring of the electric circuit that the outlets belong to.
Few Final Words
The author of this article has a Master's Degree in Electric Engineering, and the photo shows his "favorite" wire cutters.
I keep them as a reminder: I thought that the electric breaker was set to Off, but it was On, and the line was still "hot" (obviously, I didn't check that) - hot enough to melt the CrV steel of the wire cutters when the pliers shortcircuited the phase and neutral wire.
Fortunately, the electric breaker did its task quickly, but the heat was still strong enough to damage multi-alloyed steel...
Now it is fun, but it was not back then ;)
When dealing with electric power, be careful - whatever You do, stay safe...