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Your Home Inspector or Electrician Says the Home or Outlet is “Ungrounded”: What Does That Mean?

It is not uncommon for home inspectors or electrical contractors to find ungrounded electrical systems or outlets, especially in older homes. Let’s explore what this means and why it can be an issue.

Basics of how electricity works

When electricity is used it must complete a circuit. Grounding provides a path for unwanted or improperly routed electricity to “complete its circuit” by going into the ground.

Types of outlets

There are typically two types of outlets or “receptacles”. The two-prong type and the three-prong type. The two-prong is usually in older homes and dates back to the 60s. This outlet just has two parallel vertical slots, the “hot” and the “neutral”. The three-prong type looks just like the two prong only it has a third round hole usually below and between the slots (though sometimes it is above depending on the installation). This third hole is for the ground prong.

Is grounding important?

Yes, grounding is important. Usually, electricity flows normally through the hot and neutral wires, but sometimes circumstances cause the power to need an alternate path and the ground is used. Typically if the system is ground properly this causes the breaker to trip. If electricity cannot complete a circuit through ground or other means, it can be a shock or fire hazard because the power will use whatever conductor is nearest to complete the circuit, even if that is a person or device.

What if the home is ungrounded?

If the home itself is ungrounded, this typically means that the home was wired with a “two-wire” method instead of a “three-wire” method. If this is the case, the home can be rewired, or special devices can be installed to help mitigate the issues. However, this is never as effective as having a true ground.

What if the outlet is ungrounded?

If just one or a few outlets are ungrounded, it could be that the grounding wire is loose, connected improperly or not connected at all.

Grounding can be a confusing and complicated issue. However, in most circumstances it is a safety hazard if left as is. But don’t worry, there are many different methods used today to help remedy this issue.

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