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Electrical wiring in an old house: non-grounded outlets

bigtimeslackerbigtimeslacker Registered User
edited September 2007 in Help / Advice Forum
I have limited knowledge when it comes to electrical wiring in a house. I can install new plugs and lightswitches, light fixtures, ceiling fans without killing myself. I learned all of this in a newer house where everything was grounded. I recently bought an older house (built in 1920) and my bedroom doesn't have any grounded outlets. The kitchen and bathroom do have 3-prong outlets that I've tested and they show up with a good ground connection.

In my bedroom, I could just swap in a 3-prong outlet and only connect the two wires, but since I will be plugging in my computer, lcd tv, stereo, etc...I don't really want to do that. I noticed some wires clamped to some pipes in the basement. I didn't trace them back to anything yet, but is there a chance this is how some of the plugs in my house are grounded? Is this a good way to ground an outlet?

TL;DR: How can I wire a ground for an electrical outlet in my old house?

Bonus question: Are surge protectors useless when plugged into a non-grounded outlet?

bigtimeslacker on
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Posts

  • InvisibleInvisible Registered User regular
    edited September 2007
    Bonus Question: From what I was told by an electrician, yes they are.

    It's possible to ground an outlet, but there are some variables to it and it's really something better left to professionals since new wire may need to be laid.

    And yes, you can ground an outlet to a metal pipe, but depending on your area, it may be against building codes (and unsafe if you don't know what you're doing).

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  • RuckusRuckus Registered User regular
    edited September 2007
    If you have non-grounded outlets and want to replace them with Grounded outlets, the only legal and safe way to do that is to run new two-wire from the wallbox to the electrical panel. If an amateur rewired the existing ungrounded to grounded outlets, they very well could have attached the grounds to water pipes, which do ground the outlet, but it's not safe, which is kind of the point of a Grounding wire.

    And while I'm not familiar with the codes for NY, where I live, if you renovate and expose outdated or out of code wiring, you are required by law to rewire it to code and have it inspected before finishing the area (eg replacing drywall or coverplates).

    Raneados wrote: »
    so what SPECIFICALLY is the problem with my hole?
  • EggyToastEggyToast Registered User regular
    edited September 2007
    Yes, grounding needs to go to a conductive metal "conduit" that leads to earth. In most old houses this is a pipe, or the metal tubing that the old wires are inside of. This is OK to use for old construction, but wouldn't pass code in a modern house. Meaning that if the house truly is old, it's probably fine. Depends on the state, of course.

    Do not just replace it with a 3 prong outlet. If the house were to be sold, this would probably not pass inspection. A grounded outlet is supposed to actually be grounded.

    If you want to simply bypass all of the work, lift the ground by buying a 50¢ 3-2 prong converter at Lowe's. Lifted grounds aren't ideal but they get the job done. I lift the ground on my Windows laptop perpetually, to avoid ground-loop hum that travels into the soundcard. If you do just lift the ground, I would suggest unplugging your computers in case of a thunderstorm.

    || Flickr — || PSN: EggyToast
  • Dark ShroudDark Shroud Registered User regular
    edited September 2007
    I'm in the same boat my house isn't grounded. So an option if you're looking for a safe way to plug your computer in is to buy a self ground outlet. I bought one for $15 three years ago. This is after I had the outlet litterly blow up in my face while I was mudding around it. I have the burn marks on the carpet hidden under a couch and I have the putty knife with a missing section in my tool box as a remider about electricty.

    After much searching I found a little rod going into the ground in my back yard and I can see where wires used to run to it. But after further inspection I discovered that I can ground the outlets to the conduit so I don't have to buy more of those expensive outlets.

  • NewtonNewton Registered User regular
    edited September 2007
    My house is an older home and has similar ungrounded wiring through parts of the house. When we bought it, the inspector said that you could put in GFCI outlets as protection. One GFCI outlet at the head of a circuit will protect up to 4(?) outlets further down the circuit. You can also install GFCI circuit breakers, but I'm guessing if you don't have grounded wire, you probably still have a fuse box.

  • PheezerPheezer Registered User, ClubPA
    edited September 2007
    There's no such thing as a self ground outlet. To "ground" you need to run a third wire that goes to... GROUND.

    The third prong in those 2 prong to 3 prong converters goes nowhere. It does not provide a ground. In the event of a surge or spike the full brunt of it hits whatever is connected, meaning your computer melts.

    Hire an electrician and get proper grounds installed according to your local code.

    Don't grab the first pipe you see and use that because you don't know if it runs through insulation or wood or whatever else and if you direct a massive surge from a lightning strike into a metal pipe that runs through some newspaper insulation (not at all rare in houses that date back to the 20s) oh look you just burned down your house and oh look since you did it yourself and it's not up to code you might have just voided your insurance, too.

    IT'S GOT ME REACHING IN MY POCKET IT'S GOT ME FORKING OVER CASH
    CUZ THERE'S SOMETHING IN THE MIDDLE AND IT'S GIVING ME A RASH
  • khainkhain Registered User regular
    edited September 2007
    Newton wrote: »
    My house is an older home and has similar ungrounded wiring through parts of the house. When we bought it, the inspector said that you could put in GFCI outlets as protection. One GFCI outlet at the head of a circuit will protect up to 4(?) outlets further down the circuit. You can also install GFCI circuit breakers, but I'm guessing if you don't have grounded wire, you probably still have a fuse box.

    A GFCI will detect when the current flow between the hot and neutral isn't balanced, which means you have a leakage current (into a person, device, etc), which is a good thing, however it doesn't protect from voltage surge which is what a surge protector does. As said earlier, a normal surge protector won't work without a ground as thats where it diverts current and the voltage drops. You might be able to find one that doesn't work like this, but thats not the norm.

  • Blake TBlake T Registered User regular
    edited September 2007
    DrDizaster wrote: »
    .

    Hire an electrician and get proper grounds installed according to your local code.

    This is the best answer.

    I know in australia that it's illegal to do most electricity related things (ie install a new light bracket) without actually having an electricians accreditation.

    It will be far safer for you just to pony up the cash and let the professionals get electrocuted.

  • qnx_guyqnx_guy Registered User
    edited September 2007
    Do you have a fuse box, or did the previous owners update the box to circuit breakers, but not update all the outlets? All my advice assumes you have a circuit breaker box. I've never worked with a fuse box, so I don't know how grounding works with those.

    Assuming you have the cash, hire an electrician to install a new outlet. This works under any circumstance, is legal, and has 0% chance of electrocuting yourself - good. But, you have to pay a lot for it - bad.

    If you don't have the money for an electrician, you can do it yourself. In Michigan, it's legal to do electrical work in your own house (which you own, and also live in) without a license, but you have to have it inspected by the city, and you have to get a permit. You should be able to call the city you live in to see if it's the same where you live.

    Assuming you are allowed to do your own work (and you have a circuit breaker panel), you can run new wire yourself, and install your own new outlets. This is what I did in my house. I bought a house with ungrounded outlets. I ran new wire to all the outlets and installed nice new, grounded plugs in all of them. I also installed new outlets where none existed before.

    This is a lot easier than it sounds to the uninitiated (assuming you have some experience with electricity, which it sounds like you do from the OP). If you have a basement or crawlspace with an unfinished ceiling, I would recommend this route for all the ground floor outlets. I wouldn't do the upstairs stuff yourself, because then you get into cutting into the ceiling and walls to route wires, which just isn't worth the effort.

    This will give you the safety and piece of mind of having grounded outlets, plus the ease of use of more outlets (if you decide to add new ones), and it will increase the value (or at least the resaleability <sp>) of the house.

    Of course, don't forget to get the permit / inspection (~$100 in my city) or it's illegal and you may run into issues down the line. Also, if you don't have a circuit breaker panel, I'd get an electrician to do that part. And, definitely buy a book or two if you don't know what you're doing (a real one, one that won't tell you not to do it because you're not a professional).

    And most importantly, if you're uncomfortable about working with electricity from a safety standpoint (or still don't know what you're doing after reading a book or two), don't do it yourself and just pony up the cash.

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