5 DIY Fixes to Troubleshoot Electrical Problems

Written by Frank Welles of Welles Electric
Updated February 15, 2016
outdoor electrical outlet held open
Sometimes an outlet not working is the result of a tripped circuit breaker or even an outlet on a switch that's turned off.
Eldon Lindsay

Try these electrical troubleshooting tips that may save you money on an unnecessary service call.

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One of the most common service calls we get as residential electricians is for power being out in some part of the house. While these electrical problems can be caused by many things, there are steps the homeowner can take before calling an electrician.

Many times you can save yourself the cost of a service call with these electrical troubleshooting tips.

1. Fix a tripped circuit breaker

While it makes sense that the first thing you’d do is check your circuit breaker panel for a tripped breaker, there are some tricks.

If a breaker is in the middle position, which indicates that it’s tripped, then you must first push it completely to the OFF position to reset it. Then, turn it back on.

Circuit breakers sometimes trip internally without throwing the handle to the middle, or tripped position. Before calling for an electrician, try to turn each breaker to OFF then back to ON. This will reset it, which may fix your electrical problem.

If that doesn’t fix the problem, you may need professional help.

2. Reset a tripped GFCI outlet

In areas of the home that are subject to wet conditions – such as kitchens, bathrooms, garages, basements and outdoors – electrical outlets may be protected by a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) outlet. These can be identified by the TEST and RESET buttons visible on the face.

If power is out in any of these locations, look around for one of these outlets. If you find one, press the TEST button and then the RESET button to reset it.

3. Figure out switched lighting outlets

If you find that the power outage only affects one or two outlets in a given room, then you may have a switched lighting outlet.

These outlets, which you turn power on or off to by flipping a light switch, are designed to control a floor or table lamp for lighting the room. They’re often indicated by a switch near the doorway but no overhead light fixtures.

Sometimes only half of an outlet may be switched. Turn on the switch by the room entrance and test the outlet again.

4. Test the light bulbs

Although this may sounds too simple, it is commonly overlooked when a light isn't working. Be sure to test the bulb in another light fixture, so you know it works. And remember that even brand-new-from-the-package light bulbs can be bad.

5. Check the neighborhood

Before calling an electrician, you should check with a neighbor to see if they're also having power issues.

Most people don't know that trouble with the incoming utility power can often show up in about half the circuits of the house. Check with the neighbors to determine if the problem is affecting your area or just your house.

About this Experts Contributor: Frank Welles is a master electrician at Welles Electric, which services Cape Cod, Massachusetts. You can follow this provider on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus.

As of Feb. 15, 2016, this service provider was highly rated. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angi for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angi.

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