Normally when your power goes out, the circuit breaker trips everything to keep you safe. And then it’s just a case of resetting the breaker once you’ve identified the device that caused the fault, and everything will work again.
But sometimes that’s not the case, and it might be that the power doesn’t seem to be working despite the breaker not having tripped at all. Which can lead to more confusion – how do you then solve the issue, and make sure that there isn’t a more serious issue?
In this guide, I’ll explain what’s going on in simple terms that you don’t need to be an electrician to understand…
Why would power not work in one room?
If the power is out in only one room, it means there’s a fault on that circuit. That fault may be a tripped GFCI, or it could be a loose wire. Tripped GFCIs (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters) are the most common cause but old wiring can sometimes come loose and prevent a current from flowing.
First, it’s useful to explain how your electrical circuit works. Your home will have multiple different electrical circuits within the walls, each one tied to a specific circuit breaker.
The reason that you have multiple circuits is that you can’t overload one circuit with everything electrical in your home. If you did, you’d put too much demand onto a circuit and it wouldn’t work properly. It would even be dangerous.
So instead, your circuit breaker will normally be split. There’s normally one lighting circuit, unless you have a particularly large home. And then the power sockets will be split, sometimes by floor or sometimes by room, again depending on how large your home is.
But those circuits aren’t wired in series. If they were, then one faulty socket or light switch would knock out everything else wired into that circuit. So instead, you have them wired in parallel. This means there are multiple ‘loops’ of circuits that are independent.
So take your lighting circuit – if it was all wired in series, then a single blown bulb would knock out all your lights. Instead, you will normally have every light fixture wired in parallel, or fixtures might be grouped.
So a kitchen downlight blowing might temporarily take out all the kitchen downlights until the bulb is replaced, but it won’t take out every light in your home.
This is an all-important context because, when the power trips in one room, it means that the circuit loop for that room has a fault, even if the actual circuit breaker controls multiple rooms. It makes it easier to narrow down the source of the issue.
Why has my electric gone off but nothing has tripped?
If your electric has gone off but nothing has tripped, the most likely cause is a power cut – but that’s only if it affects your whole home. If it is impacting one room, then it could be that a GFCI outlet in the room has tripped, or there’s a loose wire connection.
However, the first thing you’ll want to check is just exactly what has gone off. Because often, people may be using a power strip with various devices plugged into it. And when all of those turn off at once, you might assume that the electric has gone, but it’s actually the strip that’s failed.
If it is an entire room, then you’ll need to follow the steps to identify where the fault is and try to fix it.
If it’s the whole home, then you’ll instead want to call your power company, or check their website/social media to see if they can let you know what the problem is, and when it will be resolved.
6 Steps to Diagnose and Fix The Problem Quickly
If your power is out in one room but the circuit breaker has NOT tripped, here’s what to do…
1. Identify where you’ve lost power
The first thing you need to do is work out where you’ve lost power. If it’s lighting, check all of the light switches in the room. If it’s sockets, check every socket in the room. Once you’ve checked the room, check the other rooms too, just to make sure it is an isolated incident.
If it’s only one light switch, one socket or one power strip that isn’t working, you know the problem is with these. If it’s a strip then just swap it for another one. If it’s a light switch or a socket that isn’t working, jump to step 4.
2. Try resetting the breaker
Even if the breaker doesn’t appear to have tripped, it’s worth resetting it to see if that brings the power back on – sometimes it will. Just flip the breaker into the off position, leave it a couple of seconds, then flip it back into the on position.
If this doesn’t fix the problem, then you know it’s one of two issues – it’s either an isolated incident that isn’t tripping the breaker, or the breaker itself is faulty.
3. Check any GFCI outlets
Modern homes will sometimes have GFCI outlets installed. These are power outlets that essentially have their own miniature circuit breaker.
GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter because that’s exactly what their job is. If they detect a problem with the grounding of your circuit, which could make the circuit dangerous, then they cut out to interrupt the current and render it safe.
GFCIs are extremely useful safety devices, but they’re also extra careful. They’ll cut out at the smallest hint of a ground fault even if it’s only a temporary spike. This is good news, because it keeps you safe and it means that sometimes it’s really easy to fix things.
All you need to do is hold down the reset button on the outlet for a couple of seconds, and then release it. That should get the circuit working again.
If it trips out immediately again though, that’s a sign that there is a more concerning ground fault somewhere on the line, and you’ll need to investigate. This might be with one of the devices plugged in, or it could be a wiring issue.
So, unplug all the devices in the room and try resetting it again. If it resets this time without tripping, plug each device in turn, until you work out what the issue is.
If the GFCI outlet trips again with nothing plugged in, then you’ve got a wiring issue.
4. Check connections
If you’ve determined that the problem is contained to a room, and you either don’t have a GFCI on the circuit that’s triggered the break, or it’s not letting you reset it, then you’ll need to start checking the wiring connections.
This might sound a little intimidating if you’re an electrical novice, but it really isn’t.
The first step, as it should always be when working with anything electrical, is to switch off the power at the breaker. Double-check that you’ve turned off the right one if you’re concerned.
Then, it’s time to start removing switches – whether that’s light switches (if it’s your lights that aren’t working), or outlets. Unscrew the covers and you should be able to access the junction boxes behind – these are small boxes in the wall that house the wire connections.
Check all of the wire connections behind the switch, looking for any signs of weakness – so that’s any wires connected via a nut that feel loose or any wrapped around a terminal that aren’t tightly wound.
If you notice any issues, you can disassemble the connection, strip the wire back by an inch or so, and re-connect it.
If you can’t see any problems, replace the switch in place and then move on to the next one.
You’re only checking the light switches or power outlets here. If there’s a loose connection, 99% of the time it’ll be here. Unless you’ve been drilling into a wall recently, or you’ve got critters that could’ve bitten through a wire, the cables behind the walls aren’t going to suddenly develop a loose connection.
5. Check (and replace) the switch
Sometimes the problem isn’t a loose wire, but the actual switch itself. In power outlets and standard light switches, you would normally notice an issue before the power suddenly cut out – the switch itself might become spongy, or lose its snap.
More common are issues with dimmer switches, which can fail internally. That might be because you’ve overloaded it – they can only handle a certain wattage – or eventually, they will just stop working.
If you have a standard flip switch then this likely isn’t the issue behind the power cut, unless you have noticed it degrading already. But if it’s a dimmer switch, try replacing the dimmer as that could resolve it. Bad dimmers won’t always have visible signs of deterioration.
6. Call an electrician
Once you’ve established that it’s not a GFCI fault and that the wire connections behind light switches and power outlets aren’t loose, you’re likely at the end of what you can do without professional help.
By this stage, the likely answers are going to be that a wire behind the walls has somehow been damaged, and needs to be replaced, or there’s a serious fault somewhere on the line that should be tripping the circuit breaker, even though it isn’t.
Either of these could involve some major work both in identifying where the problem lies, and in fixing it. You may need to have your circuit breakers replaced, which is not a job for a novice. It’s also very important that you get this done quickly, because a circuit breaker is an important safety device.
If your breakers aren’t working properly, then there’s nothing to limit the current flow if a device on the circuit does become faulty, and so it may just draw more and more power, which is a common cause of electrical fires.
When the power goes out in one room, the most common cause is a GFCI fault. Loose wiring tends to not be something you’ll only notice suddenly – instead, expect to see devices performing poorly, or lights flickering, before the power completely cuts out.
Of course, it could be that you’ve misdiagnosed the issue and that it’s only one power strip or switch that’s not working, so always check that first and rule it out.
In most cases, you’ll be able to resolve the issues yourself, but there may be times when you need professional help. Don’t skimp here, because electrical fires are very dangerous. Only attempt a fix yourself when you know it’s a simple job, and you know what you’re doing. And always turn off the power first!