Having an outdoor outlet that suddenly stops working can be incredibly frustrating. As we rely more on outdoor lighting, appliances, tools, and other gadgets to enjoy our yards and outdoor living spaces, a dead outlet disrupts plans and projects. However, with some basic troubleshooting and diagnostic steps, you can likely get your outdoor outlet functioning again without calling an electrician. This guide will walk through the common causes of outdoor outlet failure and provide actionable solutions to get your outdoor power source working again.
Why Did My Outdoor Outlet Stop Working?
There are several reasons an outdoor outlet can fail. Here are some of the most common causes:
- Tripped Breaker or Blown Fuse: The circuit breaker may have tripped or a fuse blown that controls the outlet. This is often caused by overloading the circuit.
- Faulty GFCI: Outdoor outlets are required to be GFCI protected for safety. If the GFCI has tripped, it will cut power to the outlet.
- Loose Wiring: Vibration, thermal expansion/contraction, animals/pests, and general weathering can cause wires to become loose or disconnected.
- Corroded Connections: Exposure to water and elemental conditions can corrode connections leading to open circuits.
- Damaged Outlet or Wiring: Physical damage from lawn equipment, events like storms, or degradation over time can damage outlets and wiring.
- Overloaded Extension Cord: Heavy use of extension cords can overload circuits and trip breakers.
- Voltage Spikes: Power surges caused by lightning strikes or other causes can short out outlets.
- Ground Faults: Broken wires touching ground/earth can cause ground faults.
- Pests: Rodents chewing on wires is a common cause of failure.
Safety Precautions When Working with Outdoor Outlets
Electrical safety should always be the top priority when working on outlets. Make sure to take these precautions:
- Turn off the circuit breaker controlling the outlet before doing any work.
- Test wires with a non-contact voltage tester to confirm power is off.
- Never work on outlets when weather conditions are wet.
- Wear personal protective equipment like gloves and eye protection.
- Use insulated tools designed for electrical work.
- Avoid working alone so someone can call for help if needed.
- If you see damaged insulation, exposed conductors, melted plugs or other major issues, call an electrician.
- Replace any damaged electrical boxes, conduits, or covers. Don’t just patch issues.
- Double check all connections are tight and wires secure before restoring power.
Following safety procedures can prevent electrocution and shock risks when DIY troubleshooting your outdoor outlet. Consult a professional if you have any concerns about safely making repairs.
How to Troubleshoot and Diagnose an Outdoor Outlet Problem
With the right approach, you can methodically troubleshoot an outdoor outlet and determine the cause of the issue. Here are the steps to take:
1. Check the GFCI Button
GFCI outlets have a “Test” and “Reset” button. Start by pressing the Reset button on the outlet firmly. Many outlets also have a GFCI breaker in the main panel that may need to be checked. If resetting the GFCI restores power, then a ground fault was likely the issue.
2. Inspect the Outlet
With the power turned off, remove the outlet cover and inspect for any visible damage. Look for:
- Cracked, burnt, or broken housing
- Corroded or loose connections
- Melted plug slots
- Evidence of arcing or shorting
- Damaged ground pin
Any visible damage indicates replacement is needed. Also look in the main electrical box to see if a fuse blew or the breaker tripped.
3. Check for Voltage
Verify the outlet is actually dead using a multimeter or non-contact voltage tester. No voltage means the issue is likely in the supply wiring, not the outlet itself. Shut off the main breaker too to be safe.
4. Examine the Wiring
With power confirmed off, remove the outlet to inspect the wires. Look for:
- Loose, disconnected, or burnt wires
- Corroded connections
- Damage to insulation like cracks or cuts
- Evidence of pest damage
- Moisture in the outlet box
Check where wires connect to outlet and wire nuts in the box. Be sure grounds are properly connected. Faulty wiring is a major cause of failure.
5. Test Components
Use a multimeter to test wires, grounds, outlet, GFCIs, and other components for continuity or shorts. This can isolate whether the outlet itself has failed or wiring issue exists. Ensure proper grounding and that hot, neutral and grounds are correctly connected according to wiring diagrams.
6. Evaluate the Service Panel
Inspect the home’s main service panel for any tripped breakers or blown fuses associated with the circuit the outlet is on. Flip breakers off and on fully to reset. Replace spent fuses with new ones of the correct amperage. Overloading or short circuits can cause breakers to trip.
7. Eliminate Extension Cords
If extension cords are connected to the outlet, unplug everything. Plug in devices one by one, verifying operation in between. Cords can overload, short and trip GFCIs. Eliminate extension cords if possible.
8. Consider Environmental Factors
Think about any recent events that could have damaged the outlet like storms or lightning strikes. Rodent damage is also common. Look for any signs wiring has been gnawed or chewed. Severe weather and critters are avoidable causes of failure.
Methodically working through these troubleshooting steps will help zero in on the reason an outdoor outlet stops functioning. While problems can seem mysterious at first, they usually come down to just a few common issues that can be repaired DIY in many cases.
How to Repair an Outdoor Outlet
Once the source of the problem is identified through troubleshooting, repairs can be made to restore your outdoor electrical power. Here are some solutions to common issues:
Reset Tripped Breaker or Replace Fuse
If overload is the cause, reduce the plug load on the circuit to prevent immediate re-tripping. A licensed electrician may need to install a dedicated circuit for high-demand outdoor appliances like hot tubs. Replace blown fuses with same amperage rating only.
Replace Faulty GFCI Outlet
For tripped or damaged GFCIs, swap in a replacement outlet of the same type after shutting off power. Weatherproof GFCI models should be used outdoors. Test after replacement before reconnecting devices.
Re-Securing Loose Wiring
Shut off power then remove the outlet to check connections. Re-secure any loose wires using proper connectors and tighten terminal screws firmly. Verify ground connections too and wires have slack for expansion/contraction.
Clean or Replace Corroded Connections
Use electrical contact cleaner spray and fine grit sandpaper to remove corrosion on wires and terminals if possible. Otherwise splice in new wiring segments to bypass corroded sections or entirely replace outlet. Prevent future corrosion by applying dielectric grease.
Repair Damaged Outlet or Wires
For damaged outlets, the entire receptacle needs replacement. Use weather- and water-resistant outlet models outdoors. Damaged wires will need splicing or replacing the run. Check insulation integrity and replace any deteriorated cable.
Eliminate Extension Cord Overload
Never exceed the rated capacity of extension cords. For continuous loads, have a qualified electrician install new exterior outlets on dedicated circuits Wired connections are safer than temporary cords for permanent outdoor devices.
Install Surge Protective Devices
At the main panel, electricians can install surge protectors and other devices to protect outdoor outlets from electrical spikes caused by lightning strikes. This prevents future shorting damage.
Fix Ground Faults
For ground faults, check all connections are secure and no bare wires are touching earth/ground connections. Electricians may need to drive a new grounding rod to fix faulty path to ground if wiring checks out.
Seal any openings in outlet boxes, conduits and other areas pests can access. Install outdoor-rated metal boxes and conduit to prevent chewers. Pest exclusion and elimination may be needed too.
Repairing an outdoor outlet varies case by case but usually involves resets, replacements, re-connections, or re-routing wiring. Don’t take chances with DIY repairs unless you feel fully comfortable working with electrical systems. Hire electricians for any complex wiring diagnosis or repairs needed.
Tips for Outlet Maintenance and Improving Reliability
Beyond fixing specific issues, there are also some ways to improve the long-term reliability and safety of outdoor electrical outlets through maintenance:
- Prevent Overloads: Do not plug high-wattage appliances like heaters into outlets for extended periods. Alternate loads if needed to not exceed outlet rating.
- Use GFCI Protection: Ensure outdoor outlets are protected by GFCIs either at the breaker or outlet itself. Test GFCIs monthly by pressing the “Test” button which should shut off power.
- Check Condition Frequently: Periodically inspect outlets covers, wiring and connections for any signs of damage, corrosion or leaks into boxes. Address any issues proactively before failure occurs.
- Use Weatherproof Covers: Install extra weatherproof outlet covers made of durable silicone or plastic. This protects plugs and outlets from moisture and elemental damage.
- Support Wiring Properly: Use conduit for wiring runs and secure cables to prevent vibration damage. Leave slack in wiring for expansion/contraction and temperature changes.
- Prevent Wildlife Damage: Replace open electrical boxes with closed metal versions. Seal openings in conduit and boxes to exclude pest entry.
- Consider Lighted Outlets: Models with LED lights allow easy plug access at night. This reduces strain/damage from plugging devices in the dark.
- Hire Electricians for Major Work: Licensed professionals have the expertise to install outdoor outlets safely to NEC standards and troubleshoot complex issues.
Troubleshooting and repairing a non-working outdoor outlet is usually feasible as a DIY project if you take the proper safety steps. In many cases, the issue comes down to GFCI resets, faulty wiring, weather damage, chewed insulation, worn parts or overloads tripping breakers – all repairable problems. Pay attention to hazard warnings like sparks or melted plastic and call an electrician for any complex diagnoses. With the right technique and some electrical know-how, you can have your outdoor outlet up and running again quickly. Just be sure to address the root cause of the issue rather than just replacing the outlet itself to improve long-term reliability. With restored power, you can get back to enjoying cookouts, parties, gardening and other outdoor activities well into the night.
FAQs About Non-Working Outdoor Outlets
What causes outside outlets to stop working?
There are several potential causes for an outdoor outlet to stop working properly, including faulty wiring, weather damage, a tripped breaker or GFCI outlet, overloaded circuits, loose connections, moisture, corrosion, insect nests, electrical surges, old and worn outlets, etc. Inspecting the outlet, wiring, connections, and testing with a multimeter can help diagnose and troubleshoot the underlying issue. Resetting breakers and GFCIs, replacing damaged wires, cleaning corrosion, and sealing outlets can often resolve outdoor outlet problems. Consulting an electrician may be needed for major outlet repairs and replacements.
How do you reset an outdoor outlet?
To reset an outdoor outlet, first locate the reset button, which is usually on the GFCI outlet or on the circuit breaker controlling the outlet. Press and release the reset button firmly. If the reset button pops back out, the outlet may have underlying issues needing repair. Inspect connections for moisture or damage. Replace damaged GFCIs and outlets. An electrician can fully diagnose and safely repair underlying faults allowing successful resetting of the outdoor outlet.
Why can’t I reset my outdoor outlet?
There are several reasons why an outdoor outlet may fail to reset properly, including faulty wiring, defective parts, moisture damage, corrosion, short circuits, tripped breakers, overloaded circuits, loose connections, and more. Inspecting the outlet and connections for damage, testing with a multimeter, checking for tripped breakers, and replacing any damaged wiring or faulty parts may allow successful resetting. For persistent issues, contact a qualified electrician to safely inspect and repair the underlying problems preventing outlet reset.
What causes an electrical outlet to fail?
Common causes of electrical outlet failure include loose, corroded or faulty connections, moisture damage, overloaded circuits, electrical surges, old wiring, insect or animal intrusion, improperly wired outlets, loose terminal screws, faulty parts, and normal wear and tear. Diagnosing the root cause of the outlet failure using a voltmeter and visual inspection allows proper repairs to be made, such as re-securing wires, replacing damaged parts, upgrading wiring, or sealing outdoor outlets.
How do you fix a dead outlet?
To fix a dead outlet, first check for tripped breakers or GFCIs supplying power to the outlet and reset them if needed. Check for loose wire connections and re-secure any wires. Test connections with a multimeter for voltage. Inspect for corrosion and replace any damaged wires. Replace the outlet if it’s worn or faulty. For persistent dead outlets, the wiring may need to be replaced or further assessed by an electrician to pinpoint any hidden faults preventing power to the outlet.
How do you manually reset an outlet?
To manually reset an outlet, locate the reset button on the GFCI outlet or circuit breaker and firmly press and release the button. If the outlet remains dead, unplug devices and inspect the outlet for moisture, scorch marks or damage. Check all wire connections are secure and free of corrosion. Test the outlet with a multimeter or outlet tester. Replace the GFCI if faulty. As a last resort, turn off power and replace the old outlet entirely if it cannot be reset.
The reset button on the GFCI outlet or circuit breaker is used to reset a tripped outlet. GFCI outlets have a “Reset” and “Test” button. The reset button usually pops out when tripped. Press the reset button in until an audible click is heard. Circuit breakers have a switch that flips to “Off” when tripped – flip it fully to “On” to reset the outlet circuit.
The reset button on a GFCI outlet is typically labeled “Reset” or marked with the international GFCI symbol of a “1” with a curved arrow. This button allows you to restore power to an outlet after it has tripped. It is usually colored red with a small protrusion that pops out when the outlet has been tripped and needs to be reset.
If the reset button on the GFCI outlet won’t press in, it’s usually because the outlet has detected a ground fault and disabled power as a safety precaution. This can occur from loose or damaged wiring, moisture in the outlet, a short circuit, or overloaded circuit. The outlet will need to be inspected and repaired as needed before allowing the reset button to successfully work again. Call an electrician if you cannot determine the fault.
What happens if you press reset on an outlet?
Pressing the reset button on a GFCI outlet will attempt to restore power to the outlet if it has tripped. If pressing reset is successful, the outlet should be operational again with power flowing. If the outlet was tripped due to an underlying issue like a ground fault, pressing reset again may simply cause the outlet to trip once more until repairs are made. The reset button allows you to restore normal functioning after fixing tripped outlets.
Not all outlets have a reset button. Only GFCI outlets, either as stand alone units or with GFCI circuit breakers, have a reset button that trips the outlet when a ground fault is detected. Normal standard outlets do not have a reset button. But the outlet may be connected to a GFCI outlet or circuit breaker located elsewhere with a reset button to control power.
If an outlet’s reset button fails to work, unplug all devices and inspect the outlet for damage, moisture, or scorch marks. Test with an outlet tester. Check for tripped breakers. Examine and re-secure wire connections. Faulty wiring or a defective GFCI may need to be replaced by an electrician. Never attempt to forcibly engage the reset button, as this indicates a need for professional electrical repairs for safety.
How do you test an outdoor electrical outlet?
Use a multimeter or outlet tester to check for correct voltage, polarity, and grounding. Plug in a small appliance to confirm power. Inspect for physical damage, scorch marks, moisture, or corrosion. Ensure covering is weatherproof. Check for loose, disconnected, or damaged wiring. Reset any tripped GFCIs. Contact an electrician immediately if any hazards are identified that you cannot safely remedy yourself. Regular testing ensures outdoor outlets remain safe and functional.
How do I know if my outdoor outlet is bad?
Signs of a bad outdoor outlet include no power, flickering lights, uneven power delivery, frequent tripping, the smell of burning plastic, visible scorch marks or cracks, corroded connections, moisture or carbon buildup, excessive heat, buzzing or sizzling from the outlet, loose-fitting plugs, or melted insulation. Outlet testers and multimeters can measure faults. Replace damaged, faulty outlets right away and have wiring inspected by a professional electrician for safety.
Do outlets lose power?
Yes, outlets can temporarily lose power or stop working entirely for a number of reasons. Some common causes include tripped circuit breakers or GFCIs that need resetting, loose or corroded wire connections, overloaded circuits, moisture in fixtures, electrical surges, damaged outlets, faulty wiring, aged wiring, and general wear and tear. Diagnosing the specific cause allows you to properly restore power to any outlets that have lost power in the home.