Open grounds in three-prong receptacles are a common issue found in older homes. This is an unsafe condition and should be corrected. The repair is relatively simple and does not require rewiring the house, as some mistakenly believe. Only those circuits with the ungrounded receptacles are needed to be addressed. This is usually no more than 3 or 4 circuits in a typical home.
The National Electrical Code allows three simple solutions.
Open Grounds are easy to make safe
First, before we go any further, although this is a straightforward procedure, if you are not familiar with electrical wiring, this is best left to the professionals. This is for general information only; care must be taken to ensure the proper materials are used and safety procedures are followed.
- Find the first receptacle in the string and replace it with a GFCI receptacle. This will provide GFCI protection to all receptacles on this line. Non grounded receptacles must be marked as “non-grounded GFCI protected.” A number of these stickers typically come with each GFCI receptacle.
- Locate the circuits involved and replace the current circuit breaker with a GFCI breaker. This will provide GFCI protection for all receptacles on this circuit. Non grounded receptacles must be marked as “non-grounded GFCI protected.” A number of these stickers typically come with each GFCI breaker.
- The least desirable solution is to replace ungrounded three-prong receptacles with the old-style two-prong receptacles. This will meet code but will usually result in the new owner replacing the two-prong with three-prong or, worse yet, using a three-prong to two-prong adapter.
- Another consideration for this method is that some city code officials will claim this is an upgrade and require the GFCI protection anyway.
If the breaker box is a newer style, the best solution for open grounds would be to install the new dual-purpose GFCI/AFCI breakers that provide both GFCI protection and AFCI (arc fault circuit interrupter).
The AFCI portion of the breaker protects against arcing in the wiring caused by any number of conditions. AFCI protection in new construction was first required for bedrooms in 2002, most other rooms in 2008, and as of 2014 GFCI and AFCI protection are both required in kitchens and utility rooms.
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