outlet mishap
June 27, 2008 5:04 PM   Subscribe

Home electrical problem/mystery: I accidentally plugged the phone charger into an outlet incorrectly and now that outlet and the dishwasher don't work. Help?

By plugged in incorrectly, I mean only one of the two "tines" of the plug went in the outlet. ( "How did this happen?" you might wonder. This is possible due to there being a strip of outlets on the side of our kitchen counter near the top.) It's not a blown fuse, and there doesn't seem to be a GFI attached to the outlets or dishwasher. What else should I check before calling in the pros?
posted by mundy to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Call in the pros. If you can't immediately see the problem, you can't fix it easily, and you don't want to mess around with electricity.

A similar thing happened to me on a kitchen outlet, and our super had to come in and replace the whole socket.
posted by phunniemee at 5:17 PM on June 27, 2008

In my kitchen every other outlet is a GFCI, but the ones that aren't get tripped by the ones that are. Is it possible there's another GFCI outlet nearby (or down on the breaker panel) that is tripped?

Replacing outlets is easy, as long as you a) shut off the breaker and b) test it after you shut it off to make sure it really IS shut off. A $10.00 Radio Shack multimeter or outlet tester is fine. Of course, it may not be the outlet.
posted by bondcliff at 5:22 PM on June 27, 2008

From what I can see, the most likely culprit is when you plugged in the phone charger, you wiggled the outlet enough to where one of the wires inside the gang box came loose, and that was also feeding the other wires. Just the existence of wires loose enough for this to happen or some other mystery problem leads me to believe shoddy wiring work was done, in which case I'd have to concede an electrician would be a good idea.
posted by crapmatic at 5:26 PM on June 27, 2008

Replacing outlets is easy, as long as you don't have shitty wireing. I do, and it was a nightmare to replace one of my outlets.
posted by majikstreet at 5:37 PM on June 27, 2008

As per bondcliff, it's entirely possible that the circuit is GFI even though the outlet doesn't show it. There could be a bunch of stuff on a GFI circuit, with one little outlet hiding somewhere with a "popped" GFI button. Does anything else in the house not work? Check likely GFI areas (garage, outside, bathrooms...).
posted by madmethods at 5:51 PM on June 27, 2008

If only one of the prongs of your charger went in the outlet, nothing's burned out (you don't mention if one prong went in one outlet and the other prong in the neighboring outlet; I dunno what'd happen in that case). I'd agree with what crapmatic said; there's probably something loose inside the box now. It's pretty easy to check for loose wires inside an outlet or gang box. Just throw the circuit breaker, unscrew the faceplate, unscrew the outlet, and have a look around. Replacing an outlet is pretty simple too, if it comes to that.
posted by xbonesgt at 5:52 PM on June 27, 2008

If one prong went into the outlet and the other touched nothing, then (probably) nothing electrical happened but you may have torqued the outlet enough to cause mechanical damage. If one prong went into one outlet and the other into the neighboring outlet, that's actually fine, since you'd have gotten one hot and one neutral connection. (This is pretty unlikely, since manufacturers try pretty hard to space things so that it can't happen.)

If one prong went in and the other touched random bare metal nearby (or maybe just your finger), then that'd be a great way to trigger an upstream GFCI. Once I was almost ready to tear my whole house apart to fix what had to be a bad wire when, luckily, I noticed a GFCI outlet in another room, behind a bookcase, had tripped. Bastard home-handyman "electrician" had daisy-chained a bunch of outlets off it.

I'll also just point out that replacing & fixing outlets is only trivial if (a) they were installed correctly (aka, with 6-8" of slack wire inside the box) and (b) your house is not 100 years old with crumbling cloth-wrapped insulation conveniently coded black for hot and, well, black for neutral too. Here in New England the chances of both of these being true anywhere but new construction is approximately 0% -- unfortunately by the time you have the diagnostic info, you've also got the damned thing taken apart.
posted by range at 6:11 PM on June 27, 2008

Seconding range. Look everywhere for the GFCI outlet that has tripped.
posted by exphysicist345 at 7:03 PM on June 27, 2008

if you jarred the outlet, as others mentioned, most likey you will be able to sniff around the outlet, and smell a burnt plastic , or smokey smell

Your dishwasher is most likey connected to a GFCI, and the outlet in question is probably on that same branch, but you may need to pull the diswasher out to get to reset it

can you see the outlet that your diswasher is connected to?

did you check the circuit breaker that powers the dishwasher?

this is more than likely a very easy DIY fix, but you'll need to do a little looking around first
posted by Mr_Chips at 7:34 PM on June 27, 2008

Nthing the GFCI thing. I once spent half an hour banging my head against a similar problem, until I found the tripped GFCI... in a different room, on a different floor of the house.
posted by Krrrlson at 8:19 PM on June 27, 2008

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