Should I convert two prong outlets on my own?

12 Replies

Hi,

New to real estate. My friend suggested I convert the 2 prong outlets in my home to 3 prong outlets myself as a learning experience (there's probably 20 to 25 to do) for future real estate purchases.  The ground wire is already there it just needs to be connected.  I was thinking of doing 2 or 3 myself and then outsourcing the reset to a professional.  What would you guys do? Would you do the whole thing yourself? It also saves some $ but it also seems like it could take some time and I have a day job, so real estate is something I'm doing on the side to diversify risk.

@Bruce P.

If it was my own house that I would be living in, I would just do the whole house myself . Once you do a couple, you get a good flow going and it's pretty quick to do. I bet you could do all of them in 2-3 hours. The old ones are probably ivory, are you going to replace them with white? White looks cleaner but then I would suggest doing the switches too because they are probably all old, dirty, and gross looking.

If it's a rental property, there's reasonable argument to just hire a pro out of the gate. 

TECHNICALLY, in some areas this work even requires a permit. 

@Bruce P. I’ve done mine myself because I’ve worked with electrical on several projects. If you’re confident and know what your doing go for it if not hire a professional. Just off the power get a tester screw driver a get it to work

Outlets are really easy to convert; you can do this yourself. 

Quick story: On my first fixer upper this past year I wanted to do as much as I could on my own so I could learn how to do it and also get a better idea on how to estimate rehab costs. I learned a couple of things very quickly: 

- you do not need to paint an entire house to figure out how much work it takes to paint an entire house.

- a contractor can do it twice as good and twice as fast for twice as much

Depending on what your real estate goals are, I truly believe you can learn everything you need to learn without doing the work yourself. I didn't get into real estate to become a handyman. Of course, doing this type of work will save money at first, but if you are trying to scale, you want to focus your time and energy elsewhere. 

With all of that said, since this is your own home and you want to learn how to change out an outlet, this is definitely something you can do on your own. Just make sure the power is off and you are good to go.

Before you do it yourself, make sure the ground wire has the same gauge as the two others. You might get surprised. Why would anybody have installed  2 prong, non-grounded outlets in a house with modern grounded wiring? That would make no sense. In older houses you sometimes find a thin third wire that is not connected. If I remember correctly, it is against code to use that one as the ground. Having said that, a licensed electrician should chime in for more accurate information.

In general it is a great idea to learn how to do work in your rehab, even if you decide it is more economical to have it outsourced in the future.

Originally posted by @Andreas W. :

Before you do it yourself, make sure the ground wire has the same gauge as the two others. You might get surprised. Why would anybody have installed  2 prong, non-grounded outlets in a house with modern grounded wiring? That would make no sense. In older houses you sometimes find a thin third wire that is not connected. If I remember correctly, it is against code to use that one as the ground. Having said that, a licensed electrician should chime in for more accurate information.

In general it is a great idea to learn how to do work in your rehab, even if you decide it is more economical to have it outsourced in the future.

 I agree with @Andreas W. I've done a lot of wiring and I don't see how someone would taken the time to rewire a house with grounded wire and then put ungrounded outlets on it. Something just isn't right about this. Take a look in the attic at the wiring. If there are two single wires running parallel on porcelain knobs then it is ungrounded. If the wiring is wrapped  it is likely grounded.

Old Style Wiring - not grounded

Modern Wiring - grounded

I agree with Account Closed

& best way to quickly test your outlet ground integrity is to hook up a new outlet to each of the circuits with the ground wire attached then plug in the tester pic., below. If it passes you should be OK BUT if the ground wire is that very thin gauge wire common to the old metal outlet boxes I would rewire all the circuits. Good luck

If the receptacles are two prong you can bet the wiring in the property is not grounded. You only looking at the “face” of the wiring. What’s behind the walls (wiring) is the most important thing to look at.

You might as well buy a bunch of the three prong adapters and stick them in the receptacles. Electrically, just changing the receptacle is no different than using adapters. You are still running off of an ungrounded electrical system.

Installing a 3 prong receptacle to an ungrounded circuit is against code. In some municipalities you can get around that with a GFCI, but make sure yours allows that. On the other hand, why don't you get yourself new 2 prong outlets and install those?

Not an electrician...but I know a few and have done this sort of thing myself.

The comments made prior about non-grounded systems are spot on - if the system wiring is not grounded, your three prong is for looks (and convenience) only.

It doesn't make sense that they would not have hooked up the ground if the system was grounded...but then again, people do crap that doesn't make sense all the time. So, I would inspect the wiring and system to verify the presence of the ground first.

Many older homes with 2-prong receptacle devices are indeed grounded systems. You can verify this by inspecting the type of wiring and boxes, and looking inside the panel. Hopefully you will find metal jacketed cable that holds the copper within it, and the copper will be coated with a rubber/plastic, and not cloth and tar. It is very easy to tell the difference, the cloth/tar will break away if you look at it sideways and the rubber will be in-tact.

The point is, with the jacketed cable systems (its a flexible, ribbed metal jacket), the metal jacket is attached to the metal receptacle box, and that serves as the ground, eliminating the need for the third ground wire. The screws that hold the device to the box serve as the ground connection, however it is better (and code in most places) to run a ground jumper from the device to the box - sometimes you have to tap threads into the box to do this (if there is no existing threaded hole for the ground screw - which is likely), and tapping threads is a pain in the butt, but not the end of the world.

Finally, the trick to replacing receptacle devices (after figuring out the ground that is) is two things.

1 - If you have the cloth/tar wiring, you need to be extremely careful when you touch and move the existing, and expect to re-coat the wires with lots of electrical tape when the stuff falls off - many electricians won't even touch it for that reason. You can also buy little plastic rings that will insert around the wire where it comes out of the box, which is the area that is impossible to get tape around, and also the area with the most movement and chance of shorting.

2 - You ought to have 6 inches of wire coming out of the box. No more, no less. On a retro-fit, it is entirely likely you will have less in many cases. If you have too little, you will need to run a jumper from the stub. The reason you don't want too much, is because the boxes are only so big and you need to fit all that wire and the device in there. Which brings me to the final point, which is you have to fold and wrap the wire just right so it folds and fits, and does not have a kink in it. 

I've found the best and easiest way to do a retro fit is to go with what is already there. I will gently pull out the existing device, and so long as there is not too much wire in there (the prior guy did it right), I will back out the existing screws and use the same strip/bend. Once attached, I will put it gently back in, just like it was.

However, I always find locations that have been done wrong, and then I will take the time to do them right. It takes a minute to figure out how to get all the wire in there just right so the device pulls in and out freely, while the wire tucks in and fits too. I like the curly-method, sort of like a pig tail. I've found and easy way to get a good pig tail is to actually attach the wire to the device upside down, then while holding the wired device, use that leverage to spin and bend the wire into a curly-cue.

A super easy location is about 5-10 minutes. However, I've found a location can easily take 20-30 minutes. The really bad ones can take an hour or even two (like swapping out a ceiling light where there are tons of wires and all of them are wrong). I estimate 30 minutes per location when I figure my time.

That was probably too long of a post...lol

Good luck!

Thank you @Geordy Rostad @Keyonte Summers @Timothy VanWingerden @Tyler Weaver @Andreas W. Account Closed (and anyone else I missed). 

Many older homes with 2-prong receptacle devices are indeed grounded systems. You can verify this by inspecting the type of wiring and boxes, and looking inside the panel.

Believe it or not folks, I had an electrician come out and look at it for an estimate and he said someone didn't hook up the ground for whatever. It could have been they just had 2 prong outlets on hand and/or it was cheaper/easier.

In any case, I'm thinking now of doing 1 or 2 myself (subject to some of the verification mentioned) and then letting a contractor do the rest, because while I'm excited to learn and get a "feel" for things to get better at estimating and becoming more informed, I do want to approach this from a point of scale.

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