House with non grounded outlets

16 Replies

A house I am purchasing was built in the late 50's and has several outlets that are not grounded. The inspector suggested I install GFIC outlets. Do I need to replace all non grounded outlets with gfic outlets or can i just replace one for each circuit breaker like you do for kitchens and bathrooms?

I thought/think that as long as you have non-grounded 2 prong receptacles, it meets code. Just don't install standard 3 prong recepticles. (Even with a phantom ground)
G
Find a good electrician to confirm.

A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet is helpful in many applications, but required only in a few. Best to hire a qualified electrician to inspect the electrical system of the house and make recommendations based on safety considerations, as well as federal electrical code and local code.

Keep in mind that electrical needs of the 1950s vary greatly from that of today. Tenants are likely to overuse circuits and they must be protected.

Read up about GFCI.  https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Residual-current...


@Tom R.

Tom, the ultimate source to what you really need to do is the code inspector who's going to go through the house before you get your certificate of occupancy. For instance, In the last property I turned into a rental the municipal inspector who gave me my C of O insisted that every single counter-top outlet in the kitchen needed to be a GFCI, just like every single outlet in the laundry room and every single outlet in the bathroom. I own multiple properties in the municipality and I keep him just as happy as I can.

Don't argue, don't complain don't think, obey. 

In Pa. If there's no ground you just need to use 2 prong outlets. If you install a GFCI with no ground it just has to be labeled NO GROUND AVAILABLE. THE GFCI outlet usually comes with little stickers that say that

Check to see if its BX wire  with metal boxes . ( BX is the electric wire with the flexible metal covering . If so that metal covering is your ground . I had the same thing in a similar age house , All I had to do to go to 3 prong outlets was attach a 6 inch ground wire inside the box and then to the ground lug on the outlet . I had 1 outled that wouldnt ground so we went in the pasement and ran a ground wire from 1 outlet to that one . 

I have had to do what @Matthew Paul said in some houses I have had. BX with metal boxes, and the 6" green ground strap.

New electrical code steps up requirements to Arc Fault outlets at certain locations.

GFCI outlets at each location need to be wired a certain way to function correctly if they are in line on the same circuit.

The best advice you got was to reach out to the local inspector (building, electrical) and ask them. Better to know what they expect up front verse having them find issues after.

@Tom R.   I have a couple rentals built in the 1940's that have non-grounded 2-prong outlets.  To answer your question, no, you don't have to replace all the non-grounded outlets.  If you need to replace any of the existing 2-prong outlets, don't just put a standard 3-prong outlet with no ground in it's place.  Either replace it with another 2-prong outlet or use a GFCI if you want a 3-prong outlet.

Here's some more reading on the topic: https://mrelectric.com/blog/2-prong-outlets-not-up-to-code

@Tom R. The code may vary based on where you are. On my flips I have two ways to take care of your problem, both while keeping 3 prong receptacles.

The best, but slightly more expensive option: You can get GFCI breakers in your panel. These can cost $50-70 each just for the materials, and you wouldn't need to change all that are in the panel, just the ungrounded ones (stove and dryer likely already grounded, others may be grounded as well).

The second option: Change the first outlet in a circuit to a GFCI outlet. Typically there will be several outlets on a circuit. When you put a GFCI outlet on the first one, all the subsequent outlets on the circuit are protected by the first one if wired correctly. This is a cheaper option typically.

Good luck!

@Tom R. Get three electricians to check out the house. Here in Portland electricians are averaging about $150 an hour based on the estimates I’ve been getting this week for a panel change, and a new meter base and mast. Kitchens and bathrooms will likely need gfci’s but I’m think a handyman can install those
How do I know which outlet is the first one?

Originally posted by @Luc Boiron :

@Tom R. The code may vary based on where you are. On my flips I have two ways to take care of your problem, both while keeping 3 prong receptacles.

The best, but slightly more expensive option: You can get GFCI breakers in your panel. These can cost $50-70 each just for the materials, and you wouldn't need to change all that are in the panel, just the ungrounded ones (stove and dryer likely already grounded, others may be grounded as well).

The second option: Change the first outlet in a circuit to a GFCI outlet. Typically there will be several outlets on a circuit. When you put a GFCI outlet on the first one, all the subsequent outlets on the circuit are protected by the first one if wired correctly. This is a cheaper option typically.

Good luck!

Originally posted by @Tom R. :
How do I know which outlet is the first one?

Originally posted by @Luc Boiron:

@Tom R. The code may vary based on where you are. On my flips I have two ways to take care of your problem, both while keeping 3 prong receptacles.

The best, but slightly more expensive option: You can get GFCI breakers in your panel. These can cost $50-70 each just for the materials, and you wouldn't need to change all that are in the panel, just the ungrounded ones (stove and dryer likely already grounded, others may be grounded as well).

The second option: Change the first outlet in a circuit to a GFCI outlet. Typically there will be several outlets on a circuit. When you put a GFCI outlet on the first one, all the subsequent outlets on the circuit are protected by the first one if wired correctly. This is a cheaper option typically.

Good luck!

 Identify the circuit, then trace that wire from the breaker panel to the first outlet. If the wiring is all buried, usually it will then be the closest outlet geographically to the breaker panel. The last outlet in the run will only have one set of wires in the box so you can rule that circuit out. In an older house it's pretty common to have straight line runs, meaning every outlet in a row will be on the same circuit, or same room runs, where all the outlets in one room are on a circuit. It's also common to have back to back runs, where outlets will be connected to each other on the same wall and same place in adjoining rooms. It usually only take a couple of minutes to figure out what kind of home run system they used. You can also buy testers to identify outlets attached to each other on a circuit. 

@Tom R. I would usually have an electrician do this, but here is how I would do it myself. Turn off only 1 breaker that has outlets. Test all the outlets and find out which ones are off, and mark them. You may be able to guess by the direction from the panel, but not guaranteed. You would then disconnect on of the wires on your best guess (ideally put a wire connector over this wire so nobody accidentally gets shocked). Turn the breaker back on. If any of the other outlets have power now, they are earlier in the circuit than the one you disconnected. If they are all off, the one you disconnected is the first one. Put a GFCI on this one. Repeat with all circuits.

I'm an Electrical PE, utilizing two prong outlets as mentioned above sounds very dubious to me, and i am confident that these fixes are not in compliance with the National Electrical Code (NEC) which is utilized in pretty much every US jurisdiction.  Any appliance connected to a two prong outlet would be floating and create a serious shock hazard since the only path to ground would be through the body of anybody touching that appliance. In addition article 250, which is the most painful read ever, requires that all electrical equipment or non-current carrying equipment that contains energized conductors to be connected to ground. 

My recommendation is to just do it the job right(meaning in compliance with the NEC) since the cost is so minimal.  Shortcuts like these are what cause electrical fires, which but your tenants at risk and creates a huge liability for you. Plus this is very obvious to any home inspector and will raise huge red flags for anybody looking to buy the house.

FYI, the 2017 NEC revision also made multiple changes regarding the where AFCI and GFCIs are required, making the requirements more stringent. 

Originally posted by @Matthew Paul :

Check to see if its BX wire  with metal boxes . ( BX is the electric wire with the flexible metal covering . If so that metal covering is your ground . I had the same thing in a similar age house , All I had to do to go to 3 prong outlets was attach a 6 inch ground wire inside the box and then to the ground lug on the outlet . I had 1 outled that wouldnt ground so we went in the pasement and ran a ground wire from 1 outlet to that one . 

This would also require the cable armor be bonded to the box via the a ground lug on the hub. There may also be a ground wire inside this type of cable that could be used. Like you said, basically every electric device needs a grounding conductor that is bonded (electrical connected) to the main house ground (ground rod or ufer). 

You should have a licensed electrician come look at this for you.

You can change them to a GFCI receptacle or a GFCI breaker but those still won't give you an equipment ground. Check with your building inspector. Around me some will require you to mark those updated receptacles with "GFCI protected. No equipment ground". Those labels happen to conveniently be included in the box that the receptacles come in. 

*this is just friendly advice from a stranger on the internet. Check your local code and regs.*