mysteriously blown outlet

The outlet in the kitchen that the refrigerator is plugged in has mysteriously quit working. I checked the power box and the fuse hadn’t been tripped. I’ve had move the refrigerator to another outlet. I have no idea what the problem could be and would appreciate any help on this issue.

The most likely problem is that the outlet is busted. Try turning the breaker off and replacing the outlet. If that doesn’t work, then it’s something that might require a little work to diagnose.

Assuming you’re in the US …

Many kitchen outlets are protected by a GFI (also called GFCI). Which is the fancy outlet containing two small pushbuttons between the two outlets.

Each outlet may have its own GFCI that you can test and reset. In other installations, only some outlets have GFCI and other ordinary outlets are wired downstream of them and are also protected by them.

Start by looking at the outlet the fridge normally plugs into. If it’s GFCI, test and reset it. It may start working. If it isn’t GFCI, or doesn’t start working after test/reset, try going around the kitchen to all the other GFCI outlets and test/reset each in turn. At some point you may restore power to the fridge outlet.

If none of this is applicable or helpful, you’re almost certainly looking at a defective socket or in-wall wiring. At which point the wise homeowner will call an electrician. A skilled DIYyer can easily troubleshoot and replace a defective socket. But asking this question pretty well demonstrates that’s not you.

It’s unusual for a fridge outlet to be GFCI-protected. It’s only been within the past few years that it’s been a code requirement, because older GFCI electronics would often have problems with inductive loads like fridge motors.

Should be pretty simple to diagnose with a handheld DMM[sup]a[/sup]. Things I would do:

  • Check to see if there is voltage at the output of the fuse or circuit breaker (at the panel) relative to earth ground.

  • Pull out the receptacle a couple inches and see if there is voltage on the hot wire relative to neutral and relative to earth ground. (Perhaps a bit redundant, but also check continuity between neutral and ground at the receptacle.) This step could be complicated if there are other things on the circuit. Hopefully that’s not the case.

If you’re uncomfortable with doing these things, don’t do them. Hire a pro.

[sup]a[/sup]When measuring voltage on a 120 VAC or 240 VAC circuit, stray voltages can really… lead you astray (pardon the pun). Use a DMM that has a LoZ feature to eliminate confusing readings caused by stray voltages.

I’ve seen cases where the breaker is not obviously tripped, but turning the breaker off and back on restored power.

There is also the possibility that the power box is mislabeled. Were any of the breakers tripped?

if that outlet is “downstream” of another one, there could be a break in the wire between them, or a poor connection at the upstream outlet.

Yes, it could be a loose/broken connection in any of the outlets on the chain. If you are lucky, if this is a new-ish house, it may be its own outlet. Check any outlet boxes around it and in the direction back to the fuse box. then turn off the breaker and do the same, to see what’s on the chain. (With the breaker off) open each outlet box and see that the wires are securely connected. Look for scorch marks - loose connections are a good way to start fires.

If a GFI breaker is on the chain, check that the button does not need pushing. Typically, outlets around water (Kitchen, bathrooms) need GFI. Note that two GFI’s on one chain is not allowed, won’t work. I assume you did not do any recent work that would have disturbed the existing setup? It would be incredibly unlikely that the problem is a break not in one of the utility boxes.

Yes, sometimes the breaker is not obviously flipped. Turn it off and on again.

It could also be that the outlet is broken and does not make contact, although I have never heard of this unless it is obvious; and it would be odd if this happened on both sockets. Since you have it apart, replace the outlet part anyway.

When fiddling with the open outlet boxes, be sure the breaker is off. then verify it really is, by quickly shorting the wires tapping with a screwdriver you don’t need any more (don’t hold it there). I know one house where my buddy found the hard way that the neutral and live were backward. Melted a bite out of his utility knife as he was trying to strip the wire.

It is my understanding that refrigerators are generally on dedicated circuits. That is, there are not any other outlets on the circuit the refrigerator is on. This is because refrigerators are high current draw appliances and it would possible to blow the breaker if, for example, you were operating your food processor and the refrigerator tried to kick in.

Now, this has two implications. First, you are not likely to find any other outlets that share the same circuit to help you troubleshoot the problem. Second, because it is a high current draw appliance, you could be getting some minor arcing at the plug when it kicks in. Not enough to start a fire, but enough to oxidize either the blades of the plug or the contacts in the outlet. Of course, this is a downward spiral. Oxidized contacts draw more current, more arcing, which causes more oxidization.

My suggestion, examine the refrigerator plug. If you see any discoloration on the metal surfaces, clean them with sandpaper or an emery board until they are bright yellow. If you need to replace the outlet, don’t replace it with the cheapest outlet you can find at the hardware store. First, check your breaker to find if the circuit is a 15 amp or 20 amp circuit. If it is a 20 amp circuit, get a 20 amp outlet. Also, get “Commercial Grade”, not “Residential Grade”. This will reduce the likelihood of the outlet going bad again.

If there is evidence the prongs on the cable plug (on the refrigerator’s power cord) were subjected to excessive temperatures or arcing, I wouldn’t try to clean the prongs. I would replace the plug. (And the receptacle, of course.)

If the cable plug on the refrigerator’s power cord is 15 A, then a new 15 A receptacle is also fine.

Spot on, I second this.

Aluminum wiring? Connections may be oxidized.
If so, you may need to redo all connections. Take a bit of wire off till you get a shiny end. Or use abrasive to clean it. Before reattaching you need to apply a specific type off “grease” which I cannot recall the name of.
This has to be done at all connections, so don’t do it if you are not experienced with electrical repairs. I recommend an electrician.
I have rarely had a copper wired outlet go bad, due to poorly tightened connections. Works fine till all of a sudden it doesn’t. Open things up and find loose connections.

OP used the specific term “fuse”.

Assuming OP is in US, he/she may have an older home without grounding wires.
Old 2-conductor wires still exist.

The “Dedicated 20 amp line for refer” is quite new. Was the kitchen rewired last update? is the refer outlet placed at midway up the wall, as common (now) for dedicated refer wires, or is it along the baseboard?

IOW: what decade wiring are we looking at?

My first house still knob and tube wiring.

It also had a single circuit of Romex (2 conductor) installed with the 1947 furnace.
That had its own single-hole fuse box - a real fuse fuse box.
It went past the furnace and provided power to the laundry room (original: tub and washboard).
They put the outlet at FLOOR LEVEL - in a wet area.

You say the fuse was not tripped. Do you have fuses in your house or breakers? When was your house built?

Aluminum can deform over time more than copper- so either way be sure the wires are screwed down tightly.

I once had a main breaker that tripped more and more often under load. Turned out the feed wire was so loose it could be jiggled or pulled free; which the electrician showed with the main power off.