We just bought a house that was built in 1941.

There are a few exterior outlets near the base of the house (for outdoor tools) that do not work. I have tested them with a multimeter and there is no power, and the circuit breaker appears fine.

I think the outlets are extremely old because they are not GFCI outlets and they are exterior, and I am told that GFCIs are code for all exterior (Water facing) outlets. So, likely they predate code.

When researching this problem I found the link: http://removeandreplace.com/2015/02/10/no-power-to-outlets-in-one-room-or-wall-how-to-troubleshoot/

This link mentions a concept of "burned outlets". I do notice that there is a brownish hue on the outlet (it is not obvious) and I attributed this to being old or rust as it is exterior.

So, is the best path forward to kill the mains and try to replace this with a new GFCI outlet? Do outlets really just stop working with no other circuit or wiring problems?

  • 2
    There's a good chance they've corroded inside, either at the outlet itself or at the screw connections. Open it up and see. At a minimum install new standard outlets with weather covers.
    – isherwood
    Nov 22 '16 at 14:11
  • My Massachusetts house was built in 1960, and had plain outdoor outlets with no GFI/GFCI. The first NEC was published in 1897, so long before my house was built. Nov 22 '16 at 14:13
  • It could be corroded wires inside the box as well. I've repaired a number of outlets in an older house owned by a relative. The wires were so badly corroded I thought they were aluminum at first (for some reason they were corroding gray, not the usual greenish copper hue). At first I tried to cut back to good wire but quickly ran out of slack without finding any. I wound up having to sand the wires to get shiny copper before I put it all back together.
    – Sean
    Nov 22 '16 at 14:25
  • GFCI's were not code until the late 70's then they were limited and outdoor outlets if over 6-1/2' from ground level did not require GFCI's until the 2000 time frame if memory serves.
    – Ed Beal
    Nov 22 '16 at 14:25
  • 2
    You may have a misconception about GFCI's. ANY outlet can be made GFCI protected, by putting a GFCI breaker or outlet upstream of it. The circuit breaker could be GFCI. If the upstream outlet is in a bedroom, making that outlet GFCI protects this one. In fact, I would not put a GFCI outlet outdoors, weather will chew it up. Nov 22 '16 at 14:30

Exterior outlets on a home this old may be more recent additions and still be older than the code requirement for GFCI's. I would power down the circuit pull the outlets and inspect the wiring. With external outlets that are not sealed and have "in use" covers or "extra duty" covers water gets in the outlets and they corrode. The in use covers have a cover that allows the outlet to be used while keeping rain out. If all the outlets are on 1 circuit you may find one has failed and the others are daisy chained, not receiving power from the point of failure. The other possibility is, I used to install switches on exterior outlets to allow holiday lighting to be turned off (there may be a switch some place that has killed the power to them).


Have you tested the wires leading to the outlet with a multimeter? Do you get voltage there when the power is turned on?

Be very careful when testing with a multimeter on live circuits.

If there is a power on the wires but the outlet doesn't work, your outlet would need to be replaced. I would suggest making this a GFCI protected outlet, either with a new breaker or an outlet with a weatherproof cover.

If you dont have power on the wires, then you likely have a different issue (although the outlet may still be bad as well).

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