Ungrounded Outlets and the GFCI Solution

Date Published: February 10, 2020

Imagine this:  You move into a new home.  You’ve worked hard all weekend, lugging dressers and couches through narrow doorways and up and down flights of stairs.

Your brother-in-law has helped. But let’s face it, most of the time he’s just been sitting on the ONE couch he helped move in, drinking beer.  Making annoying comments about how much junk you have, and how “that desk is never gonna fit down those stairs.”

But finally, all the furniture has been placed, all the dishes and clothes have been put away.  You head to your living room to sit down and relax, and maybe crack a beer yourself while you watch some TV.

You reach to plug in the TV, only to realize that you have a three-pronged cord, but only a two-prong outlet available nearby.  Your brother-in-law just laughs at you.  What do you do?

Ungrounded outlet 2 prong.

Why is grounding important?

Modern three-wire circuits typically have a hot (black) and neutral (white) wire, and a third (bare copper) wire for grounding.  Many older homes (1960’s and earlier) will still have the original two wire, un-grounded circuits.  This wiring will only have a hot and neutral wire and no ground wire.

Electricity is always seeking to discharge itself, or return to “ground”.  Electricity typically travels through the circuit by entering on the hot (black) wire and exiting to “ground” on the neutral (white) wire.

But if the neutral wire has a break, becomes loose at a connection, or a rodent gnaws through it,  the electricity searches for an alternate path.  That’s where the ground wiring comes into play, providing a safe alternate path to ground.

If this “short circuit” occurs and there is no ground wire present, the current could find its way to ground through other building components in the wall, potentially causing a fire.  Or, if you were to touch the plug at an inopportune time, the current could find its way to ground through your body, causing a shock.

Poor solutions to Un-grounded Outlets:

You could head to the garage, find an extension cord, and wind it out to the living room to plug in that flat-screen.  But this is a poor solution.  Who wants to have to look at and trip over the extension cord every time they walk by?

Not to mention that extension cords are not designed for use as permanent wiring.  Overheating can occur, presenting a potential fire hazard.