Grounding is an important part of any socket as it stops your electronics from surging and catching fires. However, not every outlet or junction box will have ground wires as I’ll explain.
Read on to learn when can (or can’t) install outlets without a ground – and other wiring situations, too.
Can You Install A 3 Prong Outlet Without A Ground?
The answer is yes but this is generally only possible if you live in a house that had its wiring installed before 1960. A 3-prong outlet will work for most appliances without a ground connected however it won’t meet electrical code for modern homes.
This is because the NEC (National Electrical Code), recognizing that rewiring a whole house might be too much work, created a compromise and workaround. If you replace the first outlet in every circuit you have with a ground fault circuit interrupting outlet (GFCI) on a 3-pronged socket, and make sure it’s labeled correctly, then you can install the 3-prong without grounding.
The GFCI might have a grounding in the name, but it isn’t true grounding, instead, it disconnects the power when the amps hit 5 milliamps. So more power outages but fewer fires.
Can I Replace A 2 prong Outlet With A 3 prong Outlet?
Yes, you can! Replacing a 2-prong outlet with a 3-prong outlet will work fine for the majority of appliances and power needs. If you want a truly modern and safe wiring configuration, however, you’ll need to use GFCI outlets.
Note that If you use those you’ll have to add a GFCI circuit breaker to the service panel.
Technically speaking, for the United States code you have to (by law) have a label on the replaced 3-prong outlet which says “GFCI Protected, No Equipment Ground” to clarify that there’s no true ground connection present.
Does Every Outlet Need To Be Grounded?
Every outlet that has a 15 amp 120 volt or higher should be grounded as stated by the National Electrical Code. However, if your home was built and circuited before 1960 when the law was created, then the NEC doesn’t affect you.
The truth is that many devices you plug in don’t even use the ground connection at all. Some examples are electrical fans, table lamps, and so forth with 2-prong power plugs. However, for the purpose of safety it’s better to have a 3 pin ground connection present.
The main reasoning behind this is that should there be a short shirt or another fault inside the appliance, etc., rather than have live voltage be present on the body a grounded chassis will conduct the voltage to the ground, preventing electric shock. Additionally, unusual circumstances like lightning also can cause a spike that destroys electronics in ungrounded devices.
How Can You Tell If An Outlet Is Grounded?
If you want to figure this out yourself instead of hiring an electrician you use an outlet tester, although all you need is a multimeter. Note that I recommend gloves to be safe as it’s easy to accidentally touch one of the leads and get a shock.
To check if an outlet is grounded using a voltmeter:
- With the multimeter set to read volts AC, place the red lead into the hot (right, upper) socket pin and hold it to the side firmly.
- Take the second lead (black) into the 3rd pin (bottom, the ground outlet slot). This is the slot that looks like a tiny mouth.
- For a grounded outlet, you should measure the full voltage for your home’s electrical outlet voltage: 110V to 120V in he USA or 220V in other regions of the world.
The difference in voltage means that the ground is present and has a return path to the electrical system’s main power feed where the ground is connected to the neutral line as intended.
How Do I Replace An Outlet Without A Ground Wire?
Is it possible to replace a 2-prong outlet with a 3-prong without getting a new ground wire, however, I wouldn’t recommend it. The ground wire in a 3-prong outlet can stop you from being shocked and even prevent a fire in extreme cases. Although GFCIs are safer than nothing, a whole new circuit would be safer.
- First off, make sure that the power has been turned off. You can confirm that no voltage is present with a multimeter.
- Next, remove the plate screw and cover along with the two screws holding the old outlet in place. Gently pull the old outlet out while making sure to not crack the old wiring.
- Unscrew the wire terminals to release tension from the wiring and then pull them off.
- Now connect the new outlet by connecting the hot wire (black) to the rightmost pin terminal. These are normally labeled “H” or “HOT” or something similar.
- Repeat this for the neutral wire (white). This should be labeled similarly as well.
- Check the tension of the wire by moving them slightly with your fingers. The wire should not be able to move at the terminals once it’s tightened down enough.
- Insert the outlet back into the hole or outlet box, replace the mounting screws, and re-install the outer cover.
Switch the power back on and test it out with the multimeter before doing anything else.