Many individuals have experienced intermittent outlets when first moving into a new home or when they have been using the same outlet for many years. The reasons they can become this way are pretty straightforward, and the fixes are relatively easy. So let’s take a look.
Intermittent outlets can be caused by wire backstabbing, incorrectly rated appliances for your home, switched plugs, GFCIs, tripped circuit breakers, overloaded outlets, and because multiple wires were used with a wire nut. Fixes will entail you determining which problem you have and resolving it with a bit of maintenance in most cases.
This article will detail the reasons why outlets become intermittent and stop working, giving you easy DIY solutions as a fix. It will also cover how to troubleshoot your outlets to make sure they are definitely the cause. Lastly, we’ll give you some tips on how to notice outlets that are about to go bad and need to be replaced.
Intermittently working outlets
There are several reasons why the outlets in your home will become intermittent. You could find that only a section of your home is affected while in other cases all the electrical outlets in your house are only working from time to time. Below are the most common scenarios you will most likely find yourself in when dealing with intermittent electrical outlets. For the most part, these situations can be resolved without the need to call in a professional and won’t take up too much time or cause you to pull out any of your hair.
7 Causes of intermittently working outlets
Backstabbed outlet wiring
By far, the most common problem that electricians find when troubleshooting an intermittent outlet is backstabbed wiring. Backstabbed wiring or a backstabbed connection is where the wire is plugged directly into the hole of the outlet. This is one way to wire an outlet. A backstabbed wire will tend to come loose over time with it being used multiple times.
Multiple wires under the wire nut
A wire nut is also known as a wire connector, is a type of device that is used to fasten multiple wires together. They are nifty little connectors that help prevent live wires from being exposed or touching any other surface that could cause a short.
The problem occurs when you have more wires connected to the wire nut than you should. Furthermore, the problem persists because electricians use a wire nut to make connections between wires; however, they should only be used as a wire cover. When there are multiple wires connected to a wire nut, shorts could occur, and some wires and may not be fitted correctly. This will cause your electrical outlets to become intermittent sometimes or stop working altogether because of a short.
Incorrectly rated devices for your wiring
Two main types of wiring can be fitted into your home. One is aluminum, and the other is copper. Depending on how your home was built, you will typically only have one wiring type. Copper is the higher quality material because it is stronger and more robust. However, it is more expensive than aluminum. Aluminum tends to be brittle and thus breaks easily.
Moreover, it offers more resistance to an electrical current, so It has the potential to overheat; thus, it can melt, burn, and create shorts and, in some cases, even a fire. One problem associated with intermittent outlets is that your aluminum wire could be weathered and worn away, causing it to break in some places.
In the other case, you will have appliances that are rated for the incorrect wiring of your home. Such as you will have aluminum appliances when your house has copper wiring. Incorrect current and resistance being sent to your appliances will thus cause problems for your outlets, including but not being limited to intermittency.
In some cases, you may find that intermittency is caused due to switched plugs. In your home areas that do not have an overhead light, a switched plug will typically be installed. This is so that you do not have to walk around the room, turning off each individual lamp when the time comes. Instead, there will typically be a switch that is wired to turn off all the outlets in the room.
Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI)
Outlets in your bathroom and kitchen are wired somewhat different from the rest of the house. They are connected via two separate circuit breakers. These are known as dedicated circuits or GFCIs, and they are identifiable by an outlet having a reset and test button on them.
A GFCI is installed in areas of your house where there is a high-risk potential for electrical shocks and hazards. Hence, they are typically placed, as we said, in your kitchen and bathroom, although you may have them situated in other areas of your home.
Suppose you are experiencing intermittent outlets that are connected to a GFCI. In that case, this is typically caused by appliances that have shorted the circuit. A typical example of this is placing a hairdryer and iron on at the same time. When a short occurs, this could affect not only one but also multiple outlets connected to the GFCI board.
Tripped circuit breaker
You may find that your electrical outlets are experiencing intermittency due to your circuit breaker tripping frequently. This will not apply to an overloaded circuit (which we will discuss next). In the case of your outlets that are wired to the circuit breaker, there may be a damaged fuse that is the cause of the problem. Each circuit in your home will be connected to the circuit breaker and will have a fuse as a fail-safe. Depending on what condition your outlets’ are in, they might have caused a “short” tripping the circuit breaker. Additionally, this event may have caused the specific fuse for that circuit to blow.
You may find that some electrical outlets will work perfectly fine, but they stop working or even trip the circuit board when you plug another appliance or device into the outlet or even other sockets located in the room.
A typical circuit in your home will have a maximum load of 15 Amperes. What will happen if you plug in appliances that equate to more than this full load is the circuit will then trip. So you may think that your outlet is intermittent, but the cause is too much power that is trying to be drawn through the outlet.
How to test and troubleshoot your outlets
Before calling a professional to solve the trouble of your intermittent outlets, there are a few things you can check to make sure that a professional is indeed required and you cannot solve the problem yourself. In the next section, we discuss the DIY fixes for the intermittent problems we stated above; however, before we get to the solutions, it would be advisable first to troubleshoot the outlets to make sure they are not functioning correctly.
The first thing you will want to do is check your GFCI outlets and hit the reset button (we do discuss a more detailed approach to this problem in the next section). Hopefully, this resolves any issues. The next thing you will want to do is check that your main circuit board is not just tripped. In most cases, this will be the case, and to solve this problem, flick the tripped switch into the “off” position first and then the “on” position. If you try to flick the switch to the “on” position, you will find it trips again.
7 Fixes for intermittently working outlets
Backstabbed outlet wiring fix
Backstabbed wiring is due to wiring the outlet in one of two ways, and this way is being frequently used less and less, with the other method being preferred and widely adopted. When removed from the wall socket, most new outlets will have a terminal with a screw located on it. What you will do is remove the backstabbed wire and clean it if need be. This entails cutting and stripping the wire if the ends are mangled. You will then wrap the wires around the terminal in a loop type of fashion (whichever way you feel is best and secure) and then tighten down the exposed ends with the screw using a screwdriver.
Wire nut intermittent outlet fix
Depending on where the wire nut is located, you may need to call in a professional to identify and change or adjust the wire nut. In situations where the wire nut is accessible, then it should be checked and fixed accordingly.
That is, you should open it up and make sure that only the correct wires are running through the nut and that they are tightened firmly. Some wire nuts may be designed differently from each other, with one type having screws to fasten the wire and some having clips or folds. Some scenarios will even call for you to replace the nut, but the procedure is simple enough.
Rated devices intermittent outlet fix
If you think this is the problem with your intermittent outlets, you will first need to check the wiring of your house to determine what wiring it has. Check the exposed ends of wires fixed to your outlets (you will need to remove the socket from the wall in this instance) to see whether the exposed wire is silver in color or a copper (yellow) color. This will tell you if you have copper or aluminum wiring.
You will then need to check all your appliances and what wiring they are rated for, You will have to consult the owner’s manual, but in some cases, this may be printed on the side or back of the appliance itself.
Switched plugs intermittent outlet fix
There is no real solution for this because typically, there won’t actually be a problem with your outlets. You will just think that there is. Make sure you know where the switch is that controls all your outlets for specific rooms. Once you know where the control switch is, make sure that it is turned on or off depending on what your needs are.
GFCI intermittent outlet switch fix
In the simplest case, you will only need to hit the reset button on a GFCI outlet, and hopefully, this will reset the breaker accordingly. Otherwise, you may have to check the GFCI board for shorts or blown fuses. If you are scared that you do not know what you are doing when it comes to a GFCI board, then don’t worry; it is much easier than you think. Watch this video here where a professional takes you through resetting your GFCI board
Tripped circuit breaker (outlet fix)
In the case where your circuit breaker keeps 0tripping due to you using an outlet, and you discover that the fuse is blown on the circuit board, you will need to replace it. Fuses come in different sizes and ratings for specific current amounts, so you need to make sure to get an exact replacement, or you may have a problem on your hands.
Suppose you are unsure about touching the main circuit board for your home, and in some scenarios, you would be right to do so. In that case, it is advisable that you call a professional for help because that is better than your home going up in flames or you getting a severe shock from the board.
Overloaded outlet fix
With overloaded outlets, there will typically be nothing wrong with your sockets, and there is nothing you can do about changing the amount of current allowed through them unless you pay a professional to do so for you. To overcome this obstacle, just make sure not to have two or more appliances plugged in and working simultaneously—for example, kettle, stoves, irons, hairdryers, and toasters. You should be able to operate different combinations of these simultaneously, and if you find that you cant then perhaps the problem will lay with one of the other factors contributing to outlet intermittency that we discussed.
6 Signs you need to replace your outlets before they stop working
We have now discussed the causes and fixes for your electrical outlets being intermittent, and hopefully, you can resolve the issues that are specific to you. Let us now quickly look at what signs you can look for before they start giving you problems.
Indications of burn marks or melting
Blemishes, major discoloration, and marks are clear signs that there has been a short-circuit and sparking, causing so much heat that the actual plastic of the outlet has burnt or melted.
Indications of cracks or chips
These are obvious to spot as well, along with burnt or melted outlets. In the case of a chipped or broken socket, it could cause a hazard problem because internal wiring could be exposed or gotten to very easily. In the case where children are in the environment, then it is advisable to replace them immediately.
Indications of heat from your outlet
If you can feel significant heat from the plug of the device or the outlet itself, this is a sign that something is wrong with the internal structure or wiring of the outlet. It will be drawing too much current in most cases, and this will be causing the heat. If you do not know how to check for this, you should call a professional.
Indications they are not grounded
Outlets that are fitted with only two receptacles are an indication of a socket that is not grounded. New versions of outlets have three pins. All circuits should have a ground for safety precautions, and if your home has two pin outlets, you should replace them as soon as possible.
Indications of flickering lights
If you are experiencing flickering lights when your lights are turned on, this could be a short circuit waiting to happen, and most likely, there are loose connections within your outlet. You should remove the flickering lights immediately and see to the socket. In some instances, if a short occurs and it is bad, the outlet is not the only thing you will need to replace.
Plugs falling out easily
The last tell tail sign that your outlet sneed to be replaced if plugs fall out of the socket easily and in some instances, even the outlet itself may be loose and with little effort is able to be removed from the wall. If any of these situations arise, you should look at replacing the outlet.
We discovered that there are several factors why your outlets would be intermittent and a few of the reasons most individuals would have probably not thought of. In most cases of an intermittent outlet, the problem is relatively minor, and armed with a little DIY knowledge and a screwdriver; they can be resolved.
However, it would help if you took note of the indications of an outlet that is about to go wrong and prevent them from becoming intermittent or flat-out faulty in the first place. These indications are not difficult to tell, from burn marks to chips and flickering lights; you will mostly be able to tell with a bit of common sense.
Lastly, if you are unsure what to do, it is always advisable to contact a professional because playing around with electricity in your home could have dire consequences.