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Frozen electrical outlet

jenniferz5 | Posted in General Questions on

An interior electrical outlet on the W side of my house stopped working this morning.  It was around 8-deg. F, when I woke up (not unusual in Zone 5a CT) – could it have frozen?  I checked all the breakers, resetting the ones in that room, tried different lamps, to no avail.  The outlet has a foam gasket insulating it, but cold air pours through the plugs when I unplug anything.

Obviously, I won’t use the outlet (I even turned off the wall switch that controls it), but is there a long-term solution to the problem if it did freeze?    Can I use it again after the temperature goes back up?

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Replies

  1. this_page_left_blank | | #1

    No, it did not freeze. Most likely there's a loose connection, maybe the wires weren't secured properly and over time the temperature cycles caused it to loosen more and more. The copper wire may have also oxidized because it was a bit loose. This should be easy to check and fix, but if you're unfamiliar with electricity (and it sounds like you are), best to get an electrician to take care of it.

    1. jenniferz5 | | #5

      Thanks, Trevor. I will turn off the breaker and ease the outlet out to take a peek, but I won't touch anything. I let the electricians and the plumbers do those jobs!

  2. Expert Member
    BILL WICHERS | | #2

    Trevor is right, outlets don't "freeze". Receptacles are commonly installed on posts and other things outdoors, with nothing more than a cover and box that keeps rain from getting into them. Temperature doesn't matter much.

    My guess is the temperature cycling loosened a connection on the receptacle, or possibly elsewhere on a wire. THIS IS BAD. You want to turn off that circuit breaker RIGHT NOW to make sure you don't have a time bomb of an electrical problem somewhere. Loose connections are where most electrical fires come from.

    An electrician will be able to figure this out for you. It might be as simple as a bad connection to that one receptacle. That's an easy fix, but I'd replace the receptacle with a new one as a precaution. BE SURE it's not "back wired" (the wire pokes in little holes in the back and is held in with spring force only). Those are notorious for being problems, and shouldn't be allowed in the code in my opionion. Screw connections are better. My favorite is the screw-operated clamp type, where the wire goes in a hole in the back, but you tighten the screw on the side to clamp the wire in place. Those are the best, but usually cost more (they're commonly available on "spec grade" receptacles).

    If the problem is a loose splice in some other box somewhere, it will take a lot longer to find and fix.

    Again, turn that breaker off RIGHT NOW and leave it off until you're SURE the problem has been fixed correctly.

    Bill

    1. jenniferz5 | | #4

      Thank you, Bill. Instead of turning off the breaker, can I leave the wall switch off until it can be repaired by an electrician? This will turn off the outlet.

      1. Expert Member
        MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #6

        Jennifer,

        Does the switch control both outlets? Many only switch half.

      2. charlie_sullivan | | #7

        That's probably fine, but not as sure to remove hazards--it's possible that something is loose upstream of that switch, or a wire on that switch. The fact that it fails means that it's likely that something was done wrong, and we don't know what. It's also easy to absent mindedly turn on a switch than to do that with the breaker.

        On the other hand, figuring out which breaker it is might be hard without it working. A great tool to have in your toolbox is a non-contact voltage sensor, which could maybe even detect the voltage on the wires to the switch without even removing the switch plate, more easily with removing the plate.

      3. Expert Member
        BILL WICHERS | | #8

        You should really shut off the breaker. As Malcolm mentioned, sometimes the switch doesn't shut off all power. Sometimes the power wire runs THROUGH The same box as the outlet to the switch, then back, so even with the switch off, there is still at least one energized wire within the box. Since you can't be sure what broke, or where the break is, it's safest to shut it all off with the circuit breaker.

        Always play it safe with things like this. The risk is huge, the inconvenience is small and relatively short in duration.

        Bill

        1. jenniferz5 | | #9

          As soon as I posted my comment I called the electrician. You are right - no messing around! Thank you.

  3. user-6623302 | | #3

    Rodents in the wall ate the wiring? Explains the draft.

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