Grounding is an important part of any socket as it stops your electronics from surging and catching fires. It also prevents you from receiving an electric shock!
In fact in the 1960s a new law came out in the National Electrical Code, stating that any sockets that have a circuit of 15amp 120volt or higher had to be grounded.
You might be wondering why your home still has 2 prong ungrounded sockets even though we are decades past 1960. These sockets are still around because the code was made for new homes. Homes made before the 1960s, which is most homes, don’t have to upgrade to this safer system.
If you are living in one of these homes, then you might be here to help make your home safer, or maybe just to see what the big deal about grounding actually is. Let me explain what’s going on, and see if there are any DIY tips to help you with your grounding needs.
First off, let’s answer the main question. Can you install a 3 prong outlet without grounding? The answer is actually yes, but this is only possible if you live in a house that had its circuits installed before 1960.
This is because the NEC (National Electrical Code), recognized that rewiring a whole house might be too much work, so to encourage at least some level of safety, they created a 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 is labeled correctly, then you can install the 3 prong without grounding.
The GFCI might have 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 protects you from electric shock, meaning it is a highly recommended upgrade as long as you include a GFCI! If you do this, you’ll have to add a GFCI circuit breaker to the service panel.
This will allow the third prong to act as the additional safety you will need. When you do this, you have to (by law) have a label on the replaced 3 prong outlet which says “GFCI Protected, No Equipment Ground”.
This way anyone can see that although it is safer, it is not part of the National Electrical Code, and therefore still capable of shocks.
Don’t just replace one outlet with another, these extra steps of installing a GFCI need to be taken, otherwise, you could be causing yourself more danger.
Does Every Outlet Need To Be Grounded?
Every outlet that has a 15 amp 120 volt or higher should be grounded. This is the law 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.
That being said, just because the law isn’t forcing you to be safe, doesn’t mean that you can ignore the fire risks of having an ungrounded socket.
Electricity needs to discharge itself. This is why when lightning strikes, you need to avoid tall trees. The tree will act as a ground for the electricity and so you are more likely to get struck by lightning if you are near this “ground”.
Electricity is always trying to seek a form of grounding, so without one prepared to expel the electricity safely, things can get dangerous.
Ungrounded outlets have neutral wires which easily come loose, and can often get bitten by rodents. In this situation, the electricity no longer has a place to ground itself, so it will search elsewhere.
The current finds its way through other components in the wall, and this is when fires can happen. If you happen to touch the plug whilst it is trying to find a ground, you can become electrocuted.
This is why you should upgrade your ungrounded sockets sooner rather than later.
How Can You Tell If An Outlet Is Grounded?
If you want to figure this out yourself instead of hiring an electrician, then you will need a multimeter. Multimeters are perfect for seeing if an outlet is grounded as it tests electrical currents.
Depending on which multimeter you use, they will all come with different instructions, but each one will have a similar way to confirm if an outlet is grounded or not.
You will need to use the first lead (often in red), and place it into the outlet.
I recommend doing this with safety gloves, just in case the outlet isn’t grounded. There is no point in using the multimeter if you receive a deadly shock because then you will know that it isn’t grounded and you will also have a hefty medical bill at a minimum.
Once you’ve inserted the red lead, you need to move the second lead (often in black) into the ground outlet slot. This is the slot that looks like a tiny mouth. If your outlet doesn’t have this third slot at all, then you know that it isn’t grounded.
Now the two leads are in position you can take the reading. The reading should be the exact same. If it isn’t the exact same, then the outlet isn’t properly grounded.
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. Ground wire stops fires and stops electrocutions and although GFCIs are safer than nothing, a whole new circuit would be safer.
If you are going to avoid getting a new ground wire, then this is what you should do.
First off, make sure that the power has been turned off. You can confirm it’s off with a multimeter. Then remove the plate screw and cover, along with the two screws holding the old outlet in place. Gently pull the old outlet out, making sure to not crack the old wiring.
Then disconnect the old outlet.
Next, you need to install the GFCI. You will need a white wire and a black wire from your local hardware store, as well as wire nuts to add any extensions you may need. Connect the black wire to the brass line, and the white wire to the silver line.
Put everything back into place, and screw in the new outlet. Test it out with the multimeter before doing anything else. And lastly, apply the “GFCI Protected, No Equipment Ground” label.