What To Do If Your House Has Ungrounded Wiring? Let’s Talk Options

When it comes to electrical systems, there can be some confusion due to their complexity. However, it is essential to understand the basics of electrical wirings, such as grounded and ungrounded outlets, to ensure safety and security within your home. One question that is commonly asked is whether or not ungrounded electrical wiring is safe? 

Homes with ungrounded wiring can be dangerous. Electrical wiring without a ground wire doesn’t meet current safety standards and can lead to a higher risk of electrical shock or fire. Ungrounded wiring is ‘grandfathered’ into most local building codes; however, there are precautions you can take to protect your family and property from harm. 

There can be several other dangers of ungrounded electrical wiring. However, there are solutions, which can help fix this issue. We will be discussing these dangers and how you can fix or prevent them in this article. 

Dangers of Ungrounded Outlets

Ungrounded outlets most commonly 2-prong outlets; however, 3-prong outlets can also be ungrounded. Ungrounded wiring has two wires, a positive and neutral wire only, and lacks a grounding wire.

In cases of overload, the electrical current seeks the closest path to the ground, leading to a fire hazard or electrocution. Therefore, updating ungrounded outlets to grounded outlets is highly recommended due to the high risk of electrical hazards. The only safe option for installing grounded outlets is to rewire the house.

Electrical Fire: Fires are one of the most common hazards attached to ungrounded outlets. Any faults occurring within the outlet can lead to sparking with the ground absent, which will eventually lead to a fire. In most cases, it is a significant risk as the fire can damage the socket, which will have to be replaced afterward, and damage nearby objects. For example, if the socket is near curtains or a couch, the fire can quickly get out of control and cause significant damage or even worse. 

Health Hazard: With your outlets being ungrounded, a person working on the outlet or operating the appliances connected to the ungrounded outlet, such as a refrigerator, will be prone to receiving an electrical shock. These shocks can vary from minor shocks to hazardous ones, and it is no doubt that these electrical shocks can also be fatal. Hence, ungrounded outlets are considered a severe health hazard and should be repaired to avoid any injury.

Loss of Property: As we already explained how ungrounded outlets could be a severe fire hazard, this point is very closely related. Any equipment or one of the appliances in your household connected to ungrounded outlets will be very prone to shorting out. In most cases, your equipment will short out, resulting in them getting damaged beyond repair. Thus, the appliances or electronics will have to be replaced, and you will need to spend extra money on repurchasing essential electrical appliances.  

Messy Wiring: A mixture of grounded and ungrounded outlets is prevalent in older homes because of the electrical work that has been done many times over the past years. A recipe for serious electrical issues; one of the most dangerous ones has to be ungrounded outlets. Hence, it is always recommended to get your outlets grounded. 

 Do You Have to Rewire an Ungrounded Outlet?

The possible dangers of having ungrounded outlets within your home have already been discussed above, so you might be wondering if you have to rewire such outlets? The answer is yes. It is almost always advised and highly recommended to rewire ungrounded outlets to avoid any hazardous situations and to ensure the safety of your home and your loved ones.

The good thing about ungrounded outlets is that it is easy to recognize when the outlets are ungrounded. Mostly 2-pronged outlets sign that the wiring behind these outlets is ungrounded due to the lack of a grounding slot. However, not all 3-pronged outlets need to be grounded. For example, a 3-pronged outlet in your home can be ungrounded in some cases because the wiring to the outlet itself may lack grounding. 

Thus, it is necessary to check all of your outlets to be entirely sure that the outlets within your home are ungrounded before you go on to rewire them. A circuit tester can be pretty beneficial and allow you to test your outlets quickly. Follow the instructions on the circuit tester, and if the lights on the tester do not illuminate, it probably means your outlet is ungrounded.

After ensuring that you have ungrounded outlets within your home, your best bet is to rewire all the outlets in your home. However, this is not something you can or should be doing yourself. The electrical systems within homes can be complicated, and there’s a high risk involved when dealing with such things. So, it is essential that you contact a local electrician and get the outlets in your house rewired, although this will not be cheap. 

Getting rewiring done within your home can be costly, and if you feel the expense is an issue, another option is getting specific outlets in your house rewired. It would be best if you used grounded outlets to power electronic devices to protect you and the device’s electrical components.

Can a GFCI Breaker Be Used to Ground an Ungrounded Circuit?

If rewiring your outlets is not an option that is convenient for you, another easy way to ground an ungrounded circuit can be using a GFCI breaker. A GFCI is a convenient and relatively inexpensive way to fix an ungrounded circuit within your home, as a GFCI breaker retails for around $30. The good thing about using this method is that using a GFCI breaker at the service panel, all the circuits, and outlets within your home will be grounded and safe to use. 

Make sure to change the outlets after installing the breaker by replacing the 2-prong outlets with readily available 3-pronged outlets and remembering to label the outlets as ‘GFCI Protected, No Equipment Ground’ as well for convenience.

Another way to ground ungrounded circuits or outlets can be via installing a GFCI at the individual outlets. A GFCI can be easier and inexpensive, even cheaper than a GFCI breaker, as the GFCI outlets retail for around $12 each. So, if you have a very tight budget or do not feel confident in installing a GFCI breaker, this might be a good option for you. 

You can purchase a GFCI outlet and replace your ungrounded, 2-pronged outlets with these, and now you have a grounded outlet. It is important to note that installing a GFCI outlet will not secure your electronic devices and appliances from power or voltage surges. However, these outlets will work effectively to protect you from short circuits and electrocution.

Although this option may seem like an easy fix for ungrounded circuits, it is not recommended to have this permanent fix because GFCI’s main aim is to protect you from electrocution, not protecting your appliances from voltage surges. So, to secure your electronics, you will need to rewire your outlets to be grounded and safer. 

Another reason why many people remain skeptical about using GFCI’s to ground an ungrounded circuit is the possibility of the GFCI failing to work. There have been studies around the failure rate for GFCI circuit breakers and outlets, and the studies found that in case of voltage surges or short circuits, it was highly likely for the GFCIs to fail and stop working. In areas where there is a lot of lightning, it is also more likely for GFCIs to fail. If a GFCI fails, the GCFI will not switch off the current passing through the wiring, making the outlets unsafe and dangerous. However, these studies were conducted quite a long time ago, and the quality and nature of GFCIs may have improved significantly in recent years. It is probably best to consult an electrician regarding the ungrounded circuits in your home to opt for the safest option. 

How To Add GFCI To Ungrounded Outlets? 

So, you may have found out that the circuits and outlets in your house are ungrounded, and now you want to fix that. As mentioned above, using GFCIs can be a great inexpensive way to ground an ungrounded outlet and make it safer. However, it might seem tricky and complicated. Still, it is relatively easy to follow the steps correctly and understand how to add a GFCI to an ungrounded outlet. 

The first step would be turning off the main breaker present in the service panel to add a GFCI to ungrounded outlets. After this, carefully remove the cover that is present on the panel. Next, for safety purposes, make sure you check the circuits with a voltage tester; this is done to ensure that none of the wires are hot. Now, disconnect the wires by pulling out the old breaker. 

It is essential to verify that your circuit wiring matches the GFCI breaker. For this, use a 12-gauge wire with a 20-amp breaker and a 14-gauge wire with a 15-amp breaker. Now, to the neutral bus, attach the white wire from the breaker. You can find the neutral or ground bus on the edges of the service panel, and it usually looks like a strip that has been attached using screws. 

The next step takes us to the neutral breaker terminal; connect the white circuit wire and connect the black circuit wire to the hot breaker terminal. Make sure that only 1/4 inch of the exposed wire is showing outside the breaker. For inserting the breaker into the panel, follow the instructions provided by the breaker’s manufacturer. In most cases, the end of the breaker that includes the wiring is inserted first, and as for the other end, it is pushed down until it gets fully seated on the center tab. 

Lastly, turn the power on and press the button on the breaker that says ‘test.’ Push the switch entirely off and then on to rest the GFCI. 

There you have it! If you follow these steps correctly, you will quickly install a GFCI to an ungrounded outlet and make it much safer to use. However, if you feel unsure of the installation process at any point in the process, it is best to contact your local electrician to prevent anything from going wrong. 

Is Ungrounded Electrical Wiring Safe? Now You Know

Hopefully, this article has made you aware of all the dangers and problems that come with electricity and ungrounded wiring. This type of wiring can be dangerous and make your day-to-day tasks much more hazardous. Ungrounded wiring can also cause electrical shocks and short circuits that can damage you and harm your appliances. Moreover, if these short circuits cause a fire, your house and loved ones will be at risk. So, we can conclusively say that it is essential to understand these dangers, cause them, and understand the various ways you can fix these issues to prevent you and your property from being at risk.

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Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.

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