The scene is set—you’re in the holiday spirit, balanced on a ladder, happily hanging holiday lights one painstaking hook at a time when suddenly, everything goes dead. No power. You identify it’s the outdoor outlets that have lost power. And the troubleshooting begins.
Step 1 - Check Circuit Breakers
The obvious culprit is a flipped breaker. A power surge, additional drain, or overload will cause a circuit breaker to flip off. To remedy the problem, locate your circuit panel, which is commonly located in the garage or basement, but it could also be in the laundry, pantry, or other interior space.
If you can’t find your circuit panel, step outside the house and locate the nearest power line. Follow the line to where it enters the house. Then go back into the house and hunt down the breaker box along the wall where the power comes in .
Once you find the circuit panel, look for any circuit breakers inside that are pushed to the off position. If you know which breaker is connected to your outdoor outlets, push it all the way into the off position and then back to the on position. If you don’t know which breaker goes to the outdoor outlets, flip them each one at a time.
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.
Even when you think you’ve located each GFCI, if your problem isn’t solved, keep looking. Outdoor outlets are protected somewhere in the line, just like bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, and basements. Oddly, it could be the bathroom GFCI that resets the outlets outdoors.
However, you may have lived in your house for some time without knowing you had a separate GFCI outlet for your outdoor outlets. It’s extremely common to find one high or low on a garage or basement wall. It may be in the back of a cabinet or on the backside of a built in. Also look behind the water heater and around the furnace.
You’re thinking, yeah, there’s no other GFCI. But there probably is. It is the number one reason, far and above any other reason, that outdoor outlets stop working so keep looking. For each GFCI you locate, use the reset button. If your GFCI is controlled by a circuit breaker, turn it off and back on, even if it has a test button on the breaker.
Step 3 - Remove Extension Cords
Another issue can arise if you are using extension cords. Unplug your weed eater, electric trimmer, or pond pump from the extension cord and plug it directly into the outlet. 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. If it’s only your outdoor outlets, chances are you’re still hunting for the culprit GFCI. However, if you have a series of outlets and fixtures out, it could be an open circuit in the line somewhere. Identify exactly which fixtures are working and which are not.
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
If you’ve identified the problem goes beyond just your outdoor outlets, start looking at each terminal in the series.
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.