Installing New Grounded Outlets
I haven’t written anything in a while as we’ve been tied up with a remodel job. New flooring; kitchen cabinets; painting; plumbing repairs; and refinishing wood floors are all on the agenda. Somewhere in this do-it-yourself construction job is the basis for a great article. So instead of that let me tell you about my efforts to replace all the duplex outlets in our 1960 house…
Our house was built in 1960 and like most homes in the area it has the older cloth covered 2-conductor wiring containing just a hot lead and a neutral. Modern house wiring today is almost all (or should be) 3-conductor wiring for the normal 110v circuits. The black wire is the hot lead; the white wire is the neutral; and the green wire is the ground.
Because of the age, all of our outlets are the two prong type with no ground leg. This doesn’t necessarily prevent the circuit breakers from tripping with a dead short from hot to neutral, but is a safety concern in the unlikely event that any device or piece of equipment shorts internally – then you (or your kids) will not suffer the pain of grabbing an electrified toaster, blender, or microwave for example. I had this happen once when an electric drill I was using had a bad supply cord and the whole drill became “hot”…yikes!
There are 3 basic solutions to this outlet grounding problem:
- Install GFI Circuit Breakers in all circuits of your breaker panel. Quite expensive and if you have an older house you may actually still have fuses instead of breakers too. Plus these combination breakers have a tendency to randomly just trip which can be annoying. Keep in mind this does not change your two prong outlets so every device you have that has those two prongs with the third peg kind of a plug are useless without a two prong adapter.
- Install GFCI outlets on each circuit. Now this can get tricky depending on how you do it. You really only need to install a GFCI plug on the first outlet in the circuit and it will protect all the others. Most outlets are daisy-chained in a string so you need to find the very first on in the circuit. This requires you to disconnect each outlet on the same breaker until you find the source hot lead and replace that outlet… or you can just replace them all with GFCI outlets (very expensive). Plus you still need two prong adapters again.
- Add a ground wire to the circuit. Here there are two methods. Run a dedicated ground wire from the breaker panel just like wiring the house up new. Now you have essentially a two-lead wire with a separate ground wire. Do not just run a ground wire and hook it into the plumbing because someday, somewhere, somebody is going to repair your pipes using PVC plastic pipes and isolate your plumbing ground. Not good.
I lucked out and my house had grounded metal outlet boxes in the walls. In 1960 it was common practice to use 2 lead with a bare ground wire wrap and then terminate the bare solid ground lead to the box. Almost there except back then the outlets did not have a ground terminal. So using 14 gauge green solid wiring I installed jumper wires between all the metal boxes and the ground connection on the new outlets. I also installed tamper resistant outlets to prevent accidents if kids try sticking something into the outlet. Now I have all new outlets in every room that are able to accept three prong devices, and are properly grounded and meet local building codes. So all of my PC’s and other electronic devices are now well protected along with my family too. By the way, I also did the same with every wall switch too by adding new ground leads and new switches.
For reference: The black lead (hot) should always be connected to the gold screw on the outlet; the white lead (neutral) gets connected to the sliver screw on the outlet; and the green lead (ground) gets connected to the green screw.
And remember: Turn off your source breaker before doing any outlet work. I used a number of different circuit testers to check everything out before, during, and after.
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