Our forum here at DoitYourself.com brings up many recurring topics common to homeowners and DIY enthusiasts. One circumstance seems to crop up repeatedly and it’s an electrical issue. The scenario is typically that portion of the house loses power, often affecting outlets, appliances, and light fixtures. Sometimes these areas are closely connected and sometimes it seems a bit random within the space with some working and some not. Regardless of your situation, if you lose power to part of your house and no circuit breakers appear flipped, it’s time for some troubleshooting.
Step 1 - Check Circuit Breakers Again
Many times a circuit breaker needs reset even if it doesn’t look like it has flipped. Turn off the circuit breaker connected to the faulty area of the home and turn it back on. Then go through each breaker, turning them off and back on. Going through this process can save you a ton of time later on if you discover the problem was there all along.
Step 2 - Look for GFCI Trip
Once you’re sure the problem isn’t a flipped circuit breaker, start the hunt for every GFCI outlet in your home. Even if the outlet is on the other side of the house, it can be the reason for your power shutdown. Also look outside and in the garage. Even older homes typically have at least one while newer homes should have at least one for every bathroom and kitchen.
Step 3 - Remove Extension Cords
If you have items plugged into extension cords, try removing the cord and plugging the device directly into the wall. Some products will override and shut down if you are using an extension cord.
Step 4 - Test Electrical Wires in Outlets and Fixtures
Next, pick up a cheap electrical tester and check all outlets in the area, identifying where the problem starts.
Step 5 - Check Circuit Breaker Switch
Also use a tester to evaluate each breaker. Although it’s rare, breakers can go bad and need replaced.
Step 6 - Evaluate Wiring in Each Fixture
Now the real fun begins. The problem is likely a loose wire somewhere in the line. It could be from any fixture or outlet. If you’ve replaced something recently, start there. Otherwise, start your hunt with the last working outlet. Turn off the power, remove the faceplate and the outlet. Check all the wires for a solid connection and make sure all screws are tight. Even though the unit is working, a short or open connection can be the beginning of the problem for the next outlet in the line.
If the wires are fed through the back of the outlet, move them to the side terminals and wind them tightly. Then turn on the power and check things out. Sometimes, the act of stuffing the wires back into the box will cause one to short out, so check the connection before reattaching the unit.
If there is no change, move to the first non-working fixture and troubleshoot wiring. When you come to ceiling fans and light fixtures, ensure the wires behind the wire nut are twisted tightly for a solid connection.
Step 7 - Go Long
The problem may not be as close as you think it is. For example, if the central light and some outlets are out in the bedroom, the problem could be a fan in the attic or a light fixture on the floor below. Unless you have an accurate map of the electrical circuits in your home, you can’t really eliminate any possibility.
Step 8 - Call the Power Company
Once you’ve scrutinized every terminal in the area and beyond, call the power company. The problem could be away from your home. They will come check the area leading up to the electrical meter.
Warning: If you are not comfortable doing this type of work, call an electrician. Always turn off the main power to the whole house when doing this type of work.