What to Do If an Outdoor Outlet Is Not Working

Outdoor outlets bring power to your string lights, spotlights, and backyard electronics. Faulty and broken outlets are inconvenient and potentially dangerous, especially when the cause isn’t something obvious, like a tripped breaker. If your outdoor plug isn’t working, it could be due to a variety of reasons. Read on to learn what to do if your outdoor outlet isn’t working. 

Safety First: Important Considerations for Troubleshooting an Electrical Issue

If you aren’t an experienced DIYer when it comes to your home’s electricity, it’s best to leave things to the licensed pros at Express Electrical Services. Electrical work carries a significant risk of shock injury or death by electrocution. If you aren’t comfortable troubleshooting why your outside plug isn’t working, we can safely and quickly tackle all your residential electrical repairs and replacements.

How to Troubleshoot an Outdoor Outlet 

If you choose to proceed with troubleshooting your outdoor outlet, start with a visual inspection of the surrounding outlets, including lighting and switches. Look for scorch marks, melting on the faceplate or the adjacent area, and other signs of electrical exposure. These are signs of a fire hazard, so if you see any of these, contact us right away.

Look for a Tripped Circuit Breaker

To begin, unplug any appliances or devices and turn off any switches along the circuit. 

At the panel box, locate the circuit breaker for the affected grid. With luck, the panel was labeled properly during construction.

The circuit breaker handle could be in the on, off, or mid position. The handle should feel firm. If you can wiggle it, or it’s at the midway position, flip it to the “off” position. To reset the circuit breaker, flip it back over to the “on” position.

If you can’t get the breaker to reset, call an electrician. The breaker could have a short circuit. 

Check the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter

If your outdoor outlet stopped working but the circuit breaker hasn’t tripped, the problem could be the outlet receptacle. Most likely, your outdoor outlet has a ground fault circuit interrupter receptacle (GFCI), which helps prevent shock or electrocution by interrupting the current when a ground fault is detected. A ground fault happens when a live or electrified wire makes contact with a grounding wire, grounded frame, or water invades the outlet. 

You can restore power to a tripped GFCI outlet by pressing the reset button on the receptacle. If the receptacle trips spontaneously or frequently, there may be a hazardous wiring issue that a professional should address sooner than later.

Check for Loose Connections or Wires

A loose connection in the outlet box can disrupt the flow of electricity. If you have experience with residential electrical, tightening the wires in an outlet is a simple task. 

Before you inspect the outlet, locate the panel box, and turn the power off at the circuit breaker. Use a non-contact voltage tester at the receptacle to confirm the power is off.

Unscrew the outlet faceplate with a flathead screwdriver. Remove the plate and set it aside.

Inspect the wires for signs of damage, like fraying or scorch marks. If there is minor damage to one of the wires, cut the damage off using wire cutters. With the stripper function of the cutters, remove 1/2 inch of insulation from the wire. Reconnect the wire to the receptacle, tighten the screws, and replace the faceplate.

It’s not always easy to assess the severity of electrical damage. If you’re unsure, contact a licensed electrician to fix any loose wires or connections.

Look for Wet Outdoor Outlets or Appliances

An outdoor outlet is susceptible to weather and exposure. Over time, outside elements can deteriorate components. That damage can cause the outlet and anything plugged into it to short circuit. If the receptacle is a GFCI, it will not reset if an outlet or appliance is still wet.

Water poses an electrical hazard and can cause damage to electrical circuits and devices and injury or death. Avoid wet outlets. Call an electrician to assess and repair the damage.

Ideally, all outside outlets will have a waterproof casing or cover. These covers have a foam or rubber seal to stop water from getting into the receptacle. Most flip up or to the side. Some have locks or latches. 

What if More Than One Outlet Isn’t Working?

If multiple outlets connect to a single GFCI, all downstream outlets from the tripped GFCI will not receive power. Reset the GFCI receptacle to restore power to the connected outdoor outlets.

You can also test the electrical values of your outlets with a multimeter. Many affordable multimeter models on the market test resistance, current, and voltage. Follow these step-by-step instructions to use a digital multimeter. For best results, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Step 1: Set up the meter by inserting the black probe into the black COM jack and the red jack into the voltage port. 

Step 2: Set the meter to Volts AC (Vac).

Step 3: At the receptacle, plug the other end of the red jack into the shorter of the two vertical slots (live).

Step 4: Insert the other end of the blackjack into the longer slot (neutral). 

A functioning outlet will read between 100 and 120 volts on the meter’s digital display. If there is a grounded port (round bottom port), the reading should be the same as the neutral port.

Replace the Outlet

If none of these troubleshooting tips help, your outdoor outlet may be faulty. It may have experienced too much wear and tear or reached the end of its life. Even new outlets can fail due to poor design or low-quality materials. 

Call the professionals at Express Electrical Services for new outdoor outlet installation and repairs. Our electricians work from the latest National Electric Codes (NEC) and the Southern California permit requirements. We’ll work with you to find the best solution within your budget.

Contact Express Electrical Services

Fire moves quickly, especially in the heat of Southern Californian summers. Don’t take chances with potential electrical problems in your home. At Express Electrical Services, our electricians are available 24/7 to provide electrical outlet installation, emergency electrical services, and repairs. Contact us today to ensure the safety and function of your home’s outdoor outlets.