Home Electrical Troubleshooting

Written by Jeff Cox of Power Plus Electrical Service
Updated December 29, 2015
old electrical outlet
Malfunctioning electrical outlets can present many issues that require troubleshooting. (Photo by Summer Galyan)

Learn how to tackle three common home electrical issues.

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Troubleshooting minor electrical concerns can often be handled by the homeowner with very little effort. Below are a few tips to troubleshoot and repair three common electrical issues.

Power out in half of house

This issue presents itself when either half of the lights and receptacles are not working, or the clothes dryer or kitchen range are not working. These are symptoms that indicate the loss of one of the “hot” conductors from the power company.

Possible causes of this problem can be that a power company wire has been damaged in the ground or a fuse has blown at a transformer. These issues are typically the responsibility of the power company and thus are repaired at no charge to the customer.

troubleshooting a GFCI electrical outlet
When the “test” button is pressed on your GFCI receptacle, it is turned off. The “reset” button will turn it back on and restore power. (Photo courtesy of Power Plus Electrical Service)

Kitchen or bathroom outlet not working

In the kitchen and bathroom, this troubling problem is typically related to GFCI outlets being tripped. You’ll want to first reset the GFCI receptacles. Know how to identify a GFCI outlet and the function of the little buttons. 

Your GFCI receptacles will have a “test” and “reset” button. The “test” button is used to test the GFCI monthly to ensure that it is working correctly. When the “test” button is pressed, the receptacle (and all others served by it) is turned off. The “reset” button will turn it back on and restore power. 

To find the GFCI, look behind everything. No matter how long you have lived in the house, there is most likely a GFCI hiding behind the toaster oven or at the bathroom sink behind a stack of old socks. Once you have found the GFCI, press the reset button to reset it.

Other outlets not working

Often, when trying to repair this issue themselves, homeowners will replace the receptacles that don’t work, but this won’t solve the problem. You’re on the right track, but this quite able to repair them. 

Most of the time, the problem is a loose wire in an outlet that is working. Most will have two pairs of wires in the outlet box. One pair will supply power in (line) and the other will supply power out (load) to the next receptacle downstream. If the load wire or wires are loose, the bad receptacle will work properly, while the one downstream will not work. 

To easily find the problem receptacle, take a plug-in receptacle tester and insert it into the receptacle that doesn't work. Next, take something such as a blow dryer, and plug it into adjacent receptacles that you suspect are upstream. Then, wiggle the plug and cord as you look at your tester. 

If the test lights are blinking, you have just found the problem receptacle. Now, turn off the power and replace the bad receptacle. Make sure you use the screws and not the little stab-in holes on the back when attaching the wires.

If these tips don’t resolve the problem, it’s time to contact a professional electrician to help you resolve the problem.

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About this Expert: Jeff Cox is the owner of Power Plus Electrical Service, providing electrical services in Asheville, North Carolina. Since 1990, Power Plus has specialized in troubleshooting, panel maintenance, ceiling fan installation, breaker and fuse repair, lighting and much more. They are a recipient of the Angie’s List Super Service Award.

As of Dec. 29, 2015, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.

This is an edited version of an article that originally published on Feb. 4, 2014.

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