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How to Fix a Low Voltage Outlet

Do you like the idea of spending more on your monthly electric bill than necessary? Or the thought that bad wiring poses a significant risk for a house fire? Of course not, but these are all potential outcomes when you have an outlet with a low voltage problem. While current draw can have minimal variations due to natural impedance, the voltage drop should never be severe.

What is a Voltage Drop?

A typical residential electrical circuit maintains a voltage of 120 amps with a variation of up to 6 amps due to natural impedance. However, when voltage drops more severely through a circuit, this voltage drop is often serious and requires immediate attention.

What Causes Low Voltage at an Outlet

Unfortunately, there are a few different reasons you might experience low voltage at an outlet. But identifying and correcting the problem is important for safety. Things like a switch malfunction or poor insulation can cause a voltage drop and are cause for concern. A high-draw appliance can sometimes also cause a voltage drop, but that is less serious.

Steps to Diagnose and Fix a Low Voltage Outlet

If you plug a lamp into an outlet and notice that the light tends to dim without warning, this could be a tell-tale sign that the outlet it is plugged into is experiencing a low voltage problem. If your AC kicks on at the same time, the culprit is likely a high-draw appliance. But if there is no noticeable correlation, further investigation is warranted.

  1. Check the circuit breakers for flipped circuits or visible signs of a problem like melting or the smell of burnt plastic.
  2. Check the plug-end of all appliances plugged into an offending outlet for similar signs of damage.
  3. Use a multimeter tool to test the voltage in the wall outlet. Abnormal is anything less than 120. Once you have positively identified an outlet with a low voltage problem, proceed.
  4. Turn off the power to the circuit and unscrew the faceplate and identify the ground, neutral, and hot wires. Start by stripping corroded wires to reveal shiny copper and tightening the screws that hold the wires in place. This tends to solve problems due to a poor connection.
  5. If problems persist, check the gauge of the wire. In older homes, the wiring may not be sufficient to support modern electrical systems. If you need additional help, contact a licensed electrician to help correct the issue.

The Takeaway on Fixing a Low Voltage Outlet

Modern electrical systems tend to work well, day in and day out. They work so well that we sometimes even take them for granted until one day when something happens that we cannot ignore. An outlet may stop working, or it may begin behaving erratically. Either way, any problem with electricity should be assessed and resolved quickly. A seemingly minor problem with an outlet can be a serious risk for a house fire that puts you and your family in danger.

A low-voltage outlet will most often require a replacement of the outlet or rewiring of the circuit; both are jobs for a trained electrician. But handy homeowners with an aptitude for electrical work may be able to identify and diagnose the problem on their own. You may even be able to solve simple problems with corroded wires and loose screws. But we urge you to use caution when working with electricity in the home and to safely step away and call a licensed electrician if the problem is beyond your skill set. A low voltage outlet is a serious problem with a variety of causes.

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