Electricity is what powers modern-day life. Without it, we would be in the dark ages. Though it’s still a relatively new innovation that continues to evolve every year. This means there are many homes, businesses, and commercial properties that have outdated wiring and outlets that are still being used every day. Some of these outdated electrical systems might seem to function normally, yet hide a very serious potential danger.
One of the most common and potentially dangerous is ungrounded outlets and wiring. Not only do they pose a serious electrical hazard and fire risk, but they can also be a sign of other outdated components in the building.
Two prong outlets are more commonly found in homes and commercial properties that were built before 1962. After 1962 the National Electrical Code required the installation of grounded three-prong outlets for all new homes built in the United States.
What Is A Grounded Outlet?
All electrical outlets have what’s called a “Hot Wire” that carries electricity from the circuit breaker to the outlet. There is also a neutral wire that sends electricity back to the panel to complete the circuit. An outlet that only has these two-wire and not a third grounded wire is called an “Ungrounded Outlet.”
Modern-day outlets that are up to code will have a third wire, which on the outlet looks like a round hole beneath the two slots. This “Grounded” wire is an important safety feature that helps prevent fire or shock in the case of an electrical surge or some other type of electric fault in the system.
In the event of a dangerous electrical fault in the outlet or the wiring, the grounded wire diverts the potentially dangerous current back to the electric panel and out to an anchored ground wire that distributes the unwanted power to the earth itself.
If your home or office doesn’t have grounded outlets you are at increased risk of electric shocks, hazards, and potential fire. In some cases, the presence of ungrounded wire will also raise your insurance rates and could pose a serious delay in the real estate process if you try to sell a building with ungrounded wiring that fails to pass inspection.
Upgrading Ungrounded Outlets To Grounded Outlets
No matter what angle you look at it from, a home or building with ungrounded outlets is in serious need of an upgrade. Though it calls for more than simply swapping out the ungrounded two-prong outlet for a three-prong outlet. The wiring itself will need to be upgraded for the new grounded three-prong outlet to work correctly.
It’s also worth noting that a home or commercial property with two-prong, ungrounded outlets usually has other electric issues that need to be addressed. This might include things like installing GFCI outlets in areas where water is present, upgrading low wattage 15-Amp circuit breakers with 20-Amp models, or upgrading an outdated fuse box with a modern-day circuit breaker panel, just to name a few.
What Is The Best Time To Upgrade Ungrounded Outlets & Wiring?
Most of the time, when you upgrade an ungrounded outlet to a grounded outlet, you also need to completely replace the wiring in the walls. Sometimes this can be done unobtrusively, but most of the time the structural components in the walls or ceiling make it nearly impossible to run replacement wires.
Many homes and commercial properties that need to be upgraded to grounded outlets and wiring will choose to time it as part of a larger remodeling or expansion project. Not only is this a convenient time to have the walls opened up for replacement wires and outlet upgrades, but it’s also an opportunity to install other innovations, like smart thermostats, audio systems, and other smart devices.
What Is A GFCI Outlet?
A GFCI or Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter is a special type of three-prong outlet that also includes a miniature type of fuse or a tiny circuit breaker. They are code for most modern homes and buildings in rooms where water or excess humidity might be present. You typically find them in kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry room.
If water contacts the outlet or excess humidity builds up to the point of causing a fault or short circuit, the tiny fuse device inside will disconnect the outlet from the primary circuit running back to the home’s circuit breaker. This prevents short circuits, fire hazards, and potentially deadly electrocution accidents.
Here again, you cannot simply replace a two-prong outlet in your bathroom or laundry room with a three-prong GFCI outlet without significantly upgrading the wiring. Though in some homes GFCI upgrades are easier in laundry rooms and second bathrooms that tend to be close to the circuit breaker panel. Especially if you have wiring running through a drop tile ceiling in your basement.
Different Ways To Upgrade Ungrounded Electrical Outlets
There are a few different ways to upgrade ungrounded electric outlets. Though this is not the sort of thing you should attempt to do on your own.
Professionally Rewiring Your Outlets
This is by far the best option for upgrading ungrounded outlets. A licensed, professional electrician can usually rewire your home in a relatively short amount of time. Though it might require opening up sections of wall or ceiling to run the new replacement wires from the outlet to the circuit breaker panel. So, while the wiring itself and outlet upgrades might be inexpensive, the remodeling or wall repair can increase the cost. Of course, certified electricians are well aware of this and always do their best to minimize the impact on your home or office.
Grounding A Three Prong Outlets With A Metal Housing Box
This is a less perfect option that requires less physical impact on your home or office space. Though it’s not always viable in some buildings. When some homes and buildings were constructed in the past a metal box was installed into the wall to hold the outlet. Some of these boxes are technically grounded, even though the actual wiring and outlet were not.
In a scenario like this, a professional electrician can often ground a replacement three-prong outlet to the metal box itself. Though this will require some minor modifications, and not all outlets in all homes or offices will have grounded boxes to house the old outlets.