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Default Grounding the receptacle boxes in an old house

My mother's house was built in the early 1950's. Most of the
electrical outlets are the original, two-prong outlets, though
a handful were replaced at some time(s) in the past by newer,
three-prong outlets.

I was checking the newer outlets recently with one of those
testers with three neon bulbs that light up in various combi-
nations depending on the circuit status, and most of the new
outlets were showing an "open ground".

I shut off power to one circuit and opened up the electrical
box containing one of these outlets to have a look, and I was
dismayed to discover that the ground screw on the outlet was
not connected to anything at all! However, even after I had
attached a ground wire to the box and to the ground screw on
the outlet, it didn't make any difference -- the tester still
showed an open ground.

My tentative conclusion, at this point, is that the boxes are
probably not grounded. Again, we're talking about early 50's
construction, so I assume grounding of electrical boxes was
simply not a standard practice required by the code when the
house was originally built.

Is it reasonable for me to conclude, at this point, that the
only safe way to get these outlets properly grounded would be
for an electrician to ground the electrical boxes?

This is a one-storey, ranch-style house in California with a
crawl space under the house (no basement). In general, should
I expect it to be possible for an electrician to do this job
by connecting a ground wire to each box, then routing all the
ground wires through the floor and grounding them all? Or is
the job likely to be more complicated than that?

Rich Wales http://www.richw.org

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Default Grounding the receptacle boxes in an old house

Rich Wales wrote:

My mother's house was built in the early 1950's. Most of the
electrical outlets are the original, two-prong outlets, though
a handful were replaced at some time(s) in the past by newer,
three-prong outlets.

I was checking the newer outlets recently with one of those
testers with three neon bulbs that light up in various combi-
nations depending on the circuit status, and most of the new
outlets were showing an "open ground".

I shut off power to one circuit and opened up the electrical
box containing one of these outlets to have a look, and I was
dismayed to discover that the ground screw on the outlet was
not connected to anything at all! However, even after I had
attached a ground wire to the box and to the ground screw on
the outlet, it didn't make any difference -- the tester still
showed an open ground.

My tentative conclusion, at this point, is that the boxes are
probably not grounded. Again, we're talking about early 50's
construction, so I assume grounding of electrical boxes was
simply not a standard practice required by the code when the
house was originally built.

Is it reasonable for me to conclude, at this point, that the
only safe way to get these outlets properly grounded would be
for an electrician to ground the electrical boxes?

This is a one-storey, ranch-style house in California with a
crawl space under the house (no basement). In general, should
I expect it to be possible for an electrician to do this job
by connecting a ground wire to each box, then routing all the
ground wires through the floor and grounding them all? Or is
the job likely to be more complicated than that?

Rich Wales http://www.richw.org



Yes, you're correct that box grounding wasn't required
in the 50's (with some exceptions).

Yes, new equip ground wires *could* be run as you imagined,
though there are technical issues with mechanical protection.
They would run to an euip ground in the service disconnect .

2 questions come to my mind:

This will be an onerous task, drilling up/down to each box
and working in the crawl space. Is it reasonable to expect
to find an electrician willing or having the time (where you live)?

What appliances will you be using that have some compelling
need to be grounded in those rooms?

If you're concerned with shock hazard from touching some
appliance, would a GFC recept protect as well?
They can be retrofitted even where the box is not grounded.

Jim
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Default Grounding the receptacle boxes in an old house

Earlier, I wrote:

My mother's house was built in the early 1950's. . . . My
tentative conclusion, at this point, is that the [electrical]
boxes are probably not grounded. . . . Is it reasonable for
me to conclude, at this point, that the only safe way to get
these outlets properly grounded would be for an electrician
to ground the electrical boxes . . . by connecting a ground
wire to each box, then routing all the ground wires through
the floor and grounding them all?


"Speedy Jim" replied:

This will be an onerous task, drilling up/down to each box and
working in the crawl space. Is it reasonable to expect to find
an electrician willing or having the time (where you live)?


I honestly have no idea. I haven't tried to find an electrician to
do this (or any other) job for my mom yet.

What appliances will you be using that have some compelling need
to be grounded in those rooms?


I was thinking primarily of consumer electronics -- but I was also
thinking about the bathrooms, where I understand the current code
requirement (and the best practice for safety) is to use GFCI outlets.

The objective I had in mind was that every outlet in the house ought
to be a properly grounded, suitably protected three-prong outlet --
which I understood meant that the boxes all needed to be grounded
(since installing a 3-prong outlet with an open ground is totally
unacceptable).

If you're concerned with shock hazard from touching some
appliance, would a GFC recept protect as well? They can be
retrofitted even where the box is not grounded.


Hmmm. I didn't realize a GFCI receptacle could legitimately be used
even without a ground. So, in that case, I suppose we could simply
ignore the fact that the electrical boxes aren't grounded and replace
every receptacle in the house with a GFCI receptacle -- and although
this would cost a couple hundred dollars, it would cost a lot less
than having an electrician come out and ground all the boxes for us.
Is that what you're suggesting as an alternative to having the boxes
grounded?

Rich Wales http://www.richw.org

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Rich Wales wrote:
Earlier, I wrote:

My mother's house was built in the early 1950's. . . . My
tentative conclusion, at this point, is that the [electrical]
boxes are probably not grounded. . . . Is it reasonable for
me to conclude, at this point, that the only safe way to get
these outlets properly grounded would be for an electrician
to ground the electrical boxes . . . by connecting a ground
wire to each box, then routing all the ground wires through
the floor and grounding them all?


"Speedy Jim" replied:

This will be an onerous task, drilling up/down to each box and
working in the crawl space. Is it reasonable to expect to find
an electrician willing or having the time (where you live)?


I honestly have no idea. I haven't tried to find an electrician to
do this (or any other) job for my mom yet.

What appliances will you be using that have some compelling need
to be grounded in those rooms?


I was thinking primarily of consumer electronics -- but I was also
thinking about the bathrooms, where I understand the current code
requirement (and the best practice for safety) is to use GFCI outlets.

The objective I had in mind was that every outlet in the house ought
to be a properly grounded, suitably protected three-prong outlet --
which I understood meant that the boxes all needed to be grounded
(since installing a 3-prong outlet with an open ground is totally
unacceptable).

If you're concerned with shock hazard from touching some
appliance, would a GFC recept protect as well? They can be
retrofitted even where the box is not grounded.


Hmmm. I didn't realize a GFCI receptacle could legitimately be used
even without a ground. So, in that case, I suppose we could simply
ignore the fact that the electrical boxes aren't grounded and replace
every receptacle in the house with a GFCI receptacle -- and although
this would cost a couple hundred dollars, it would cost a lot less
than having an electrician come out and ground all the boxes for us.
Is that what you're suggesting as an alternative to having the boxes
grounded?

Rich Wales http://www.richw.org


Yes, that's exactly what I was suggesting. And if you GOOGLE search
http://groups.google.com/
on this newsgroup and alt.home.repair, there have been numerous
threads about GFCI and not grounded boxes for guidance.

You *may* find that the bath outlet boxes _are_ grounded.
It was common in the 50's and earlier to be careful to ground those
boxes and also the bath switch boxes. Adding GFCI recepts in the
baths would be a very big plus.

Stuffing a GFCI recept into an old box is not always easy
as they are often cramped and the wires may be too short to
work with. Just so you know...

Jim
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Doug Miller wrote:
In article , (Rich Wales) wrote:


Hmmm. I didn't realize a GFCI receptacle could legitimately be used
even without a ground. So, in that case, I suppose we could simply
ignore the fact that the electrical boxes aren't grounded and replace
every receptacle in the house with a GFCI receptacle -- and although
this would cost a couple hundred dollars, it would cost a lot less
than having an electrician come out and ground all the boxes for us.
Is that what you're suggesting as an alternative to having the boxes
grounded?



It's not necessary to replace every receptacle in the house with a GFCI.
Replacing the first receptacle (the one closest to the service panel) on each
circuit will do -- GFCIs can be wired to protect all downstream outlets as
well. There won't be an equipment ground on those outlets, of course, but they
will be GFCI protected.



Ummmmmm. Well, that _presumes_ that the existing recepts
are "daisy-chained". If in fact his recpepts are daisy-chained,
each one will have 4 wires connected, as one means of maybe telling
if it's so.

I'm going to make a very, very wild guess that his 50's house
is wired K&T and recepts are almost *never* daisy chained then.
(That's just a guess because I haven't been there to inspect.)

I would never attempt to put just one GFCI on a circuit
unless I knew for an absolute certainty that *all* recepts
would actually be protected.

Jim
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In article , Speedy Jim wrote:
Doug Miller wrote:

It's not necessary to replace every receptacle in the house with a GFCI.
Replacing the first receptacle (the one closest to the service panel) on each
circuit will do -- GFCIs can be wired to protect all downstream outlets as
well. There won't be an equipment ground on those outlets, of course, but

they
will be GFCI protected.



Ummmmmm. Well, that _presumes_ that the existing recepts
are "daisy-chained".


That's the normal method of installation...

If in fact his recpepts are daisy-chained,
each one will have 4 wires connected, as one means of maybe telling
if it's so.


Even if it's not, it's probably pretty easy to *add* a receptacle, near the
service panel, and daisy chain the rest of the circuit off of that.

And if the OP has breakers instead of fuses, he can use GFCI *breakers*
instead of receptacles. Unless there are only very few receptacles in the
house, it's certainly cheaper to use one GFCI breaker per circuit, than to go
to the utterly absurd (and utterly unnecessary) expense and labor of replacing
every receptacle in the house with a GFCI.

I'm going to make a very, very wild guess that his 50's house
is wired K&T and recepts are almost *never* daisy chained then.
(That's just a guess because I haven't been there to inspect.)


It's probably a very bad guess, too. 1950s is much more likely to be BX or NM
(yes, they did have NM in the 1950s) than K&T.

I would never attempt to put just one GFCI on a circuit
unless I knew for an absolute certainty that *all* recepts
would actually be protected.


Why? Are you under the impression that all receptacles actually *need* to be
GFCI protected?


--
Regards,
Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)

It's time to throw all their damned tea in the harbor again.
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To do it right, I would re-wire the house with grounded wiring. This may
also require bringing the house up to code [electrically] which could
include linked smoke detectors inside and outside of bedrooms, GFI outlets
in certain locations, and "Arc Fault" for the bedrooms.

Probably will need a new main electrical panel.

The advantage of rewiring / doing everything to code is the insurance
company likes this in case of electrical fire (May not pay if electrical
work was not done to code and caused property loss or personal injury), and
then resale of home easier / possibly more value. Not to mention that
everything is more safe.

Some electronic surge suppressors and electronic power supply surge
suppressors depend on a good ground to function properly. Sometimes to
filter noise out as well. I don't know if your mom has a lot of electronic
gizmos or not, but a future buyer of the house probably would. Something to
think about.

And when re-wiring, you can switch to 20 amp circuits. Add additional
outlets and better handle today's electrical needs.

Arc Fault info...
http://www.rd.com/content/openConten...ontentId=19631


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In article ,
says...
Doug Miller wrote:
In article ,
(Rich Wales) wrote:


Hmmm. I didn't realize a GFCI receptacle could legitimately be used
even without a ground. So, in that case, I suppose we could simply
ignore the fact that the electrical boxes aren't grounded and replace
every receptacle in the house with a GFCI receptacle -- and although
this would cost a couple hundred dollars, it would cost a lot less
than having an electrician come out and ground all the boxes for us.
Is that what you're suggesting as an alternative to having the boxes
grounded?



It's not necessary to replace every receptacle in the house with a GFCI.
Replacing the first receptacle (the one closest to the service panel) on each
circuit will do -- GFCIs can be wired to protect all downstream outlets as
well. There won't be an equipment ground on those outlets, of course, but they
will be GFCI protected.



Ummmmmm. Well, that _presumes_ that the existing recepts
are "daisy-chained". If in fact his recpepts are daisy-chained,
each one will have 4 wires connected, as one means of maybe telling
if it's so.


There will be four wires in each box but the outlets may (should)
be pigtailed. The last one will only have two. ;-)

In any case, once the first outlet is disconnected (in preparation
for the GFCI) the rest will be dead, proving that they're daisy-
chained off that one.

I'm going to make a very, very wild guess that his 50's house
is wired K&T and recepts are almost *never* daisy chained then.
(That's just a guess because I haven't been there to inspect.)


As Jim said, I highly doubt it's K&T. My parents built a house in
the '50s with NM. Some regions of the country still required BX
though.

I would never attempt to put just one GFCI on a circuit
unless I knew for an absolute certainty that *all* recepts
would actually be protected.


Push the "test" button. If the outlets go dead, they're covered.

--
Keith
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"krw" wrote, regarding my mom's 50's-era house:

As Jim said, I highly doubt it's K&T. My parents
built a house in the '50s with NM. Some regions of
the country still required BX though.


When I looked behind the receptacles in my mom's house, the two
wires in each box had white and black plastic insulation, and
each pair of wires looked like it was covered with some sort of
non-metallic, black outer layer that seemed to be impregnated
with a tar-like substance. The outer layer appeared a bit on
the brittle side.

I took a look under the house today (peering into the crawl
space), but I didn't see any electrical wiring there at all
(except for phone and cable TV). I imagine this may mean that
the electrical wiring is in the attic; I haven't tried looking
there yet.

Rich Wales http://www.richw.org



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"Rich Wales" wrote in message
g...
"krw" wrote, regarding my mom's 50's-era house:

As Jim said, I highly doubt it's K&T. My parents
built a house in the '50s with NM. Some regions of
the country still required BX though.


When I looked behind the receptacles in my mom's house, the two
wires in each box had white and black plastic insulation, and
each pair of wires looked like it was covered with some sort of
non-metallic, black outer layer that seemed to be impregnated
with a tar-like substance. The outer layer appeared a bit on
the brittle side.

I took a look under the house today (peering into the crawl
space), but I didn't see any electrical wiring there at all
(except for phone and cable TV). I imagine this may mean that
the electrical wiring is in the attic; I haven't tried looking
there yet.

Sounds about right- in a 1-story house with a crawl, much easier to do the
rough wiring from above after the house is weather-tight, but before the
interior walls are rocked or plastered or whatever. Crawlspaces suck, for
the tradespeople. The cable description sounds spot-on- fabric covered
romex, and yes, that outer sheath is brittle, as well as the copper ends of
the cables around the terminal screws. And if you live in an area that
required (at the time) that the romex be stapled to the studs, don't count
on there being any slack to lengthen the wires folded up in the box. Good
electricians try to leave enough extra to change out the devices at least
once, but it doesn't always happen.

Like the others have said- I'd look at pulling new circuits for the kitchen
and bath outlets, with GFCI, and maybe one for whatever passes for the
entertainment center. The other outlets, I'd replace with fresh 2-holers
(yes, they are still available). If your mother is into gardening or
whatever, a couple GFCI-protected garage/outside outlets are also a good
idea. If the service panel has enough capacity, even if it is screw-fuse, as
long as it is in good condition, it is probably safe to leave. But if you
have an electrician coming in anyway, I'd get a price on a new panel of at
least 150 amps. A trick I have seen used in houses like this, to minimize
crawlspace pain, is to run a feeder up to the attic, and then put a
sub-panel right by the access hole in the attic. You then snake the modern
wires down into the walls as needed. Still a PITA, but a lot easier than
trying to locate the walls and stud cavities from below with poor access.
Outside walls are of course the hardest, due to lack of headroom, and
insulation in the walls. When you call around to electricians, tell them you
are looking for someone with experience in 'old work' situations. They will
know the tricks to doing it safe and legal, with minimum damage to existing
interior.

I got lucky on this 1960 house- the romex has a ground wire, and the boxes
were grounded, so all I had to do was switch the outlets. The ground is good
enough to get a green light on the meter.

aem sends....



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Default Grounding the receptacle boxes in an old house

The GFCI advice given here is good. One thing that I want to throw
out is a short cut that my bosses hubby did...and it's illegal, wrong,
and and incrediblye dangerous...

Presented with the same thing as you, he purchased 3 prong recp.
Instead of using a GFCI, or adding a ground, by poking around in the
service disconnect, he saw that the ground and neutral were both
attached to the disconnect box. He's a bright chap, and deducts that
if ran a jumper to the grounding screw to the neutral screw on the
recp. he'd be good to go, didn't need that extra bare wire anyway. No
kidding.

The sad thing is as you can imagine is that the little plug in tester
said "Grounded". For the sake of everyone, your family and future
owners don't go this route. The sad thing is that when the house was
sold, the inspector plugged in the little tester thingy, and it said
grounded and no one bothered to take a cover plate off.

Bottom line...if your not 100% certain, do yourself a favor and at
least hire an electrician for an hour or two to provide a
consultation, no amount of savings is worth a life.

DAC


On Jan 26, 1:01 pm, (Rich Wales) wrote:
My mother's house was built in the early 1950's. Most of the

--- snipped ---

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"DAC" wrote in message
oups.com...
The GFCI advice given here is good. One thing that I want to throw
out is a short cut that my bosses hubby did...and it's illegal, wrong,
and and incrediblye dangerous...

Presented with the same thing as you, he purchased 3 prong recp.
Instead of using a GFCI, or adding a ground, by poking around in the
service disconnect, he saw that the ground and neutral were both
attached to the disconnect box. He's a bright chap, and deducts that
if ran a jumper to the grounding screw to the neutral screw on the
recp. he'd be good to go, didn't need that extra bare wire anyway. No
kidding.

The sad thing is as you can imagine is that the little plug in tester
said "Grounded". For the sake of everyone, your family and future
owners don't go this route. The sad thing is that when the house was
sold, the inspector plugged in the little tester thingy, and it said
grounded and no one bothered to take a cover plate off.

Bottom line...if your not 100% certain, do yourself a favor and at
least hire an electrician for an hour or two to provide a
consultation, no amount of savings is worth a life.

Agreed, but make sure it is a real electrician. When I moved in, I hired a
company that had a real office, real painted trucks, a yellow pages ad, and
everything, to repair one dead circuit. I also asked for a site survey and
estimate for some other things I had noticed. They fixed the dead circuit,
and provided a sky-high estimate for the other stuff, so I did most of it
myself, finding all sorts of stupid and dangerous stuff that indicated that
they really hadn't checked out squat, since it wasn't listed on their
report. IOW, ask around at work, and find who others have used and were
happy with. (I'm trying to get my brother, a semi-retired electrician who
used to work as a plant engineer, to come visit and help me with the other
stuff....)


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On Thu, 01 Feb 2007 23:29:50 GMT, wrote:
"DAC" wrote in message
roups.com...
Bottom line...if your not 100% certain, do yourself a favor and at
least hire an electrician for an hour or two to provide a
consultation, no amount of savings is worth a life.

Agreed, but make sure it is a real electrician. When I moved in, I hired a
company that had a real office, real painted trucks, a yellow pages ad, and
everything, to repair one dead circuit. I also asked for a site survey and
estimate for some other things I had noticed. They fixed the dead circuit,
and provided a sky-high estimate for the other stuff, so I did most of it
myself, finding all sorts of stupid and dangerous stuff that indicated that
they really hadn't checked out squat, since it wasn't listed on their
report. IOW, ask around at work, and find who others have used and were
happy with. (I'm trying to get my brother, a semi-retired electrician who
used to work as a plant engineer, to come visit and help me with the other
stuff....)


Well, if you are in the Monroe County, NY, region, aem, I can
recommend someone who is your kind of electrician: a guy who works
for a plant full-time and has a side business, fully licensed and
highly competent. And he'll schedule via email!
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