Troubleshooting Electrical Outlets

Here’s a familiar household scenario. You put a can of catfood into the electric can opener hoping to see the can spin around and make whirring noises, but instead nothing happens. No spinning, no noise. What to do?

Is the can opener broken or is it just not getting electricity? Finding this out is the first step of troubleshooting the problem.

Step 1: Plug the can opener into a socket that is delivering power to an appliance or lamp that works. Let’s say the can now spins and whirs. You know the can opener is fine. After you’ve fed Kitty, you can turn to the electrical issue to see if it’s something that you can handle or if you need to call an electrician.

Step 2: Look at the kitchen outlet that you originally plugged into. Does it have two little buttons on it that say “Test” and “Re-set”? If so, it’s a safety outlet (GFI) for kitchens and other places where water might be nearby. Push the re-set button and see if the can opener works now. If so, the problem may be solved.

However, if you frequently have to push re-set to get this outlet to work, there’s an electrical problem that an electrician should handle. If re-set doesn’t fix it, go on to Step 3.

Step 3: Is the outlet controlled by a wall switch? If so, flip the wall switch. Does the can opener work now? If not, go on to Step 4.

Step 4: Has the circuit breaker that controls the outlet flipped off? As a first step, turn off any computers and other electronic devices that might lose data if they lose power suddenly. Next, look in the circuit breaker box for any flipped switches. Even if you don’t see one, it’s possible that one has flipped off internally without moving to the off position. Firmly flip off each circuit breaker in turn and flip it on again. Now, plug the can opener into the kitchen outlet and see if it works. If the can opener works, you’re done.

But as a note, if a particular circuit breaker repeatedly flips off, your electrical system may need to be enlarged to meet your power needs or there may be an intermittent short circuit. An electrician can tell you which it is. A short circuit is a fire hazard and should be addressed as soon as possible.

Step 5: If after these steps, the kitchen outlet still doesn’t work, it’s time to call an electrician.

If you follow these steps whenever an electric outlet or wall switch is giving you trouble, you can save on unnecessary electrical service calls.  But if it turns out that you need an electrician and you’re in L.A., give us a call at (818) 446-0888.  We’ll be happy to discuss any electrical issues with you.

Kim Hopkins

CEO, The Electric Connection

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