It is important to know how to replace non-grounded 2-prong outlets. Many homes are still outfitted with 2 prong outlets. However, it has come to light that these outlets are not as safe as three prong outlets. This is because the 2-prong outlets do not have the third grounding wire which is present on three prong outlets. Therefore, there is no protection from stray currents that can result in electrocution or power surges that can destroy sensitive electronics.
If your home was built before 1960, it is likely there are still non-grounded 2-prong outlets in your home. However, there are ways to safely replace these outlets. This article will take a look at some of these methods.
Is Rewiring a Good Solution to Replace Non-Grounded 2-Prong Outlets
Rewiring a home is always a possibility in replacing non-grounded 2-prong outlets and installing a safer electrical system. However, there are many reasons why homeowners may not choose to rewire, including cost. There are ways an electrician can replace your 2-prong outlets with 3 prong outlets without rewiring but there are risks involved. Because 2-prong outlets are not grounded, the risk of electrocution and appliance damage is likely. Even though adding an outlet will allow you to plug in 3 prong outlets, it will not reverse the probability of electrical damage. A ground is necessary.
GFCIs as a Solution to Replace Non-Grounded 2 Prong Outlets
Rather than simply replacing a non-grounded 2-prong outlet with a 3 prong, using a GFCI outlet could be a good solution However, although these can decrease the risks that protect against electrical shocks, it will not protect sensitive appliances that could be damaged from voltage fluctuations. Surge protector strips are also not great solutions because they are only as good as the ground they are connected to.
If you do choose to replace non-grounded 2-prong outlets with a three prong GFCI, here is a step by step process of how to safely do so:
- Turn off the power to the outlet being replaced at the service panel. Use a circuit tester to confirm that the outlet is off.
- Remove the cover plate screw and cover and then remove the two screws holding the receptacle into the box.
- Pull out the old outlet. Be careful not to crack the old wiring while doing this. Gently extend it to give yourself access to the wires.
- Disconnect the old outlet.
- Some old boxes may be tight. Test the new GFCI to make sure it fits by gently pushing the wire back. If it doesn’t, a new electrical box may be needed.
- Another issue that may arise is that the wires may not be long enough. If this is the case, you may want to add 4-6” extensions (also called pigtails). Make sure you are using the appropriate wire for the circuit as follows: 15 amp = 14 gauge, 20 amp = 12 gauge. You will need one white wire and one black wire as well as the correct wire nuts to add the extensions.
- If the wires are long enough, look at the terminals on the GFCI and identify the line terminals. These will be used to connect the wires as follows: Black wire to the brass ‘line’ terminal screw; White wire to the silver ‘line’ terminal screw
- Gently fold the wires back into the box, pressing in the new outlet.
- Screw in the box.
- Test the outlet by pushing the reset button to turn it on and test to turn it off. If all is as it should be, attach the cover plate and add a ‘no ground’ sticker.
Note: It is not a good idea to install GFCIs into electrical boxes that are used for refrigerators, garbage disposals, trash compactors, dishwashers, clothes washers, dryers, home heating and cooling systems. These appliances can trip the GFCIs and are also often in areas that are difficult to access. If you need to hit the reset button, you may have to pull out a heavy appliance in order to do so.
Grounding a 2 Prong Outlet
Grounding outlets is always a good idea for ultimate safety. If your home is grounded but some of your outlets are not, get a professional electrician in to perform this service. He or she will be able to do this by attaching a wire and running it from your outlet to the grounding screw at the back of your electrical box. However, this is a long and complicated process which can be dangerous and is best left to someone experienced in the electrical field.
General NEC Notes on Replacing Non-Grounded 2-Prong Outlets
- The NEC will allow you to replace old non-grounded 2-prong outlets with newer ones. This will not solve your grounding problem but it will serve to update older equipment with new parts that may be safer and more functional.
- The NEC will allow you to replace a 2-prong receptacle with a 3 prong GFCI receptacle but the new receptacle must be labeled “No Equipment Ground.” You cannot ground any receptacles downstream of this installation.
- You can replace a 2-prong receptacle with a three-prong receptacle and add a GFCI protected circuit breaker to the panel. This receptacle must be labeled “GFCI protected, no equipment ground.”
It is always a good idea to look into ways to replace non-grounded 2-prong outlets if you have them in your home. However, you should make sure that work is being done correctly so that the outlet is not just replaced, but grounded as well. It is always a good idea to hire a reputable professional electrician for any electrical work done in your home. A good electrician will have a few years of service under his belt, have trustworthy recommendations and be able to work within your budget. Good luck getting a safe and up to date electrical system running in your home.