Electrical outlets generally last a few years but are not immune from going bad.
In various situations, outlets can go bad sooner than they are designed to. Even GFCI outlets, which normally last up to 10 or 15 years, can get damaged before their lifetime.
Outlets can go bad, but certain situations can make them go bad sooner. Overloading and frequent trips are common, but there are other reasons.
Do Outlets Go Bad?
All types of electric equipment can potentially go bad over time or when a fault develops, including outlets.
If the outlet is good, to begin with, and used carefully, it can typically last around ten years (GFCI ones can last up to 15 years). The chances of it failing increase as it ages.
However, it can go bad sooner due to overloading with too many appliances on the circuit, due to loose or wrong wiring, or as a result of arcing that leads to overheating, or if used improperly.
An example of improper usage would be pulling plugs out forcefully. This weakens its internal clamps and leads to frequent internal connections loosening and outlet tripping.
Situations in Which an Outlet Can Go Bad
So an outlet is more likely to go bad in the following situations:
- If it is old.
- If it was installed many years ago in an old home.
- If it has frequently been tripping.
- If it is used on an overloaded circuit.
- If it has experienced arcing or overheating.
- If it is wired wrongly.
- If it is used improperly.
- If it is exposed to excessive moisture, UV light, heat, or chemical vapors.
Even GFCI outlets, designed to trip to prevent an electric shock when they detect a ground fault due to a current surge, can go bad in such situations.
A GFCI outlet can also go bad quickly if placed in a moist or wet area or one that vibrates a lot.
Moisture increases the chances of a short circuit and getting an electric shock, and the contacts can weaken or rust over time.
The chances of a GFCI outlet going bad are also high in external areas if exposed to excessive UV light, heat, or chemical vapors (besides moisture). All such factors can cause a fault to develop prematurely.
Another situation where you might think an outlet has gone bad is in the rare case of a power surge resulting from a faulty line transformer. But this should be easy to find because other things will also probably not work, or there might be a power outage in the neighborhood.
How to Tell if an Outlet is Bad
You know an outlet can go bad, but how can you tell if one has gone bad?
A faulty or tripped outlet will not supply power. So if an appliance is plugged into the outlet and doesn’t work, it might be the appliance, but it might be the outlet.
If a GFCI outlet is connected to multiple other outlets in your home, the fault might not necessarily be with the GFCI outlet or the appliance connected to it. The problem could be with any of the connected outlets or the appliances connected to them.
The frequency of the trips will indicate if an outlet is bad. If it’s frequent, especially for no apparent reason, it’s probably gone bad.
If you hear an outlet buzzing, it could be a sign that it is failing.
An interruption in the regular flow of current causes the buzzing.
It could be due to a loose wire connection, a bad outlet or receptacle, a faulty appliance connected to the outlet, the use of a dimmer switch, poor wiring, a problem with the circuit breaker, an improperly installed outlet, or rusty wires or connections in the electrical panel.
Something is wrong if you notice flickering lights, that an outlet is warm or doesn’t work, or the frequent blowing of fuses. Treat it seriously because it could soon lead to electrical sparks if ignored. Then you will have to deal with a burned outlet or, possibly worse, an electric shock or house fire.
What to Do if an Outlet Does Go Bad
If an outlet does go bad or seems to be going bad, don’t ignore it.
I listed several reasons above why this might happen.
If it tripped while plugging in a certain appliance, you should suspect it first.
On a GFCI outlet, press the RESET button to restore power. If it trips again, you must investigate the problem to trace the cause. You should check all the other outlets, appliances, fuses, and circuit breakers connected to the same circuit.
You should consult a qualified electrician if you’re still in doubt or it keeps tripping for an unknown cause.
As a precaution, you should test all your outlets every few months, especially those in exterior places or where there is moisture or other risks.
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