Old house, Copper wire but no ground

av8rJune 5, 2007

We have an older house that we moved into a few years ago. It has the older 2 conductor copper wire with no ground. Someone prior to us has replaced all the receptacles with grounded ones even though there is no ground. Also, there are numerous splices in the attic w/ electrical tape and no jboxes that I have been redoing w/ jboxes and wire nuts. I was at least going to rewire the bathrooms and the kitchen to add new 20 amp grounded circuits for those areas. Other than those rooms, does the whole house need to be rewired or is it ok the way it is since it is at least copper wire? Should I replace the grounded receptacles with ungrounded ones and use grounding adapters everywhere?

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You can leave the grounded receptacles as is. Just install a GFCI type receptacle as the first one on each circuit and feed the rest from the load connection on the GFCI. Use the labels that come with the GFCI to indicate the GFCI protection and no equipment ground at each receptacle.

The adapters ought to be outlawed and posession of them should at least be a flogging offense, IMHO

Ungrounded lighting circuits are seldom as big an issue as receptacle circuits. Many appliances, tools, and other things have cords with a ground type plug indicating they should be grounded. The GFCI will protect you from shock with these things but in the case of electronic equipment, computers especially, a grounded circuit is almost a requirement to prevent equipment damage from a number of sources. Also, surge suppressors need the added connection to function properly.

It wouldn't hurt to think about gradually upgrading all the receptacle circuits as you can, but no reason to hurry unless you get something requiring a ground.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2007 at 5:19PM
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Something to consider: Many older homes from the mid to late 50's do actually use and older cloth-covered NM w/ ground. However, installers at the time either didn't know what to do with it and just cut it off, or actually used it to ground the metal box. However, the ground wire usually cannot be seen or is difficult to see from the inside of a receptacle box. Test your receptacles for the presence of a ground. It's possible the previous owners did this. Sure would save you a lot of time and hassle!

When was your house built, and what kind of wiring does it have? The flying splices in the attic are a bigger problem. I'd wirenut those and get them in covered boxes as soon as possible.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2007 at 6:56PM
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Ditto to rtscoach. If the box is a little loose or there is some space above it you might see the ground wire screwed to the top OUTSIDE of the box as I've seen a few times. Get the wire out and attach it to the recepticle.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2007 at 7:43PM
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Thanks for the replies. I did look and it is the cloth covered nm cable but unfortunately there is no ground wire. Another question to uncle bill or anyone that might know; I have looked at many of the receptacles and most only have one wire going into them. (not one in and one out) It looks like in most cases the circuit was fed to the ceiling box or to a junction box in the attic and then out to all the receps individually on that circuit. So in order to do as you suggested above, I guess I would have to use square d qo gfi breakers which are pretty expensive. What would you do? If I do end up using the gfi circuit breakers and putting the labels on the receps will that bring it up to code if we decide to sell or would they want to see ungrounded receps? Could I just put the labels on the receps saying ungrounded? Thanks for the pointer about the suppressor. I will make sure I replace that one with a new 3 conductor wire.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2007 at 8:04PM
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If you plan to run a new 3-conductor cable for your computer/surge surpressor, I'd just swap out the grounded receptacles with ungrounded ones. Aside from my computer, I have no devices that require a ground outside of the kitchen/laundry. Just look at what you're plugging in to the bedroom circuits. I bet the vast majority are two-pronged. If its just lights and clock/radios and everything else that dosn't need a ground, I see no need to spend money of GFI breakers. Save the money and put it towards new grounded 20A circuits for the bath, kitchen, and laundry, and over time you can get around to re-wiring the beedroom circuits if you see fit.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2007 at 5:41AM
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One other thing you need to watch out for: My experience with that old cloth-insulated cable is that the insulation becomes brittle over time. I still remember some of that in my grandmother's house (which my uncle had installed in the '50s) with the insulation falling off in chunks, exposing the bare conductors in a lot of places.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2007 at 3:25PM
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The cloth-jacketed NM installed in the 1950s is usually OK because it has thermoplastic insulation on the individual conductors inside. If it's from appreciably earlier than that, and the conductors are insulated with rubber and cloth, fa's warning is one to consider. I've had old rubber-insulated NM cable fail shorted.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2007 at 5:50PM
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I've worked extensively on 50s era cloth NM in my own home. Davidr is correct. Just watch out for new light fixtures requiring 90 degree wire, as this NM is only 60 degree rated.

Many who have not seen, or worked with it mistake the appearance of the outer sheath for being brittle, cracking and even burnt/chared. It is normal for it to appear somewhat cracked with black marks on it. Just the nature of the material used for the sheathing. Rub it between your thumb and forefinger, if chunks are falling off you have a problem like "fa f3 20" described. But I would be very surprised if this was the case with 50s era NM. In my experience its remarkable tough. Definently a bigger pain to cut through the cloth sheathing that it is the modern stuff!

    Bookmark   June 6, 2007 at 6:55PM
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I have questions on the house without ground wire.

My son is renting a place in an old home that does not have ground wire. This is a short term accommodation (i.e. one or two semesters). Most of his electrical equipments such as computer and the computer accessories (i.e. printer, monitor etc) have 3 pin plugs.

First of all, I concern his safety. Without the ground, you can get fatal electrical shock.

Without the ground, would it cause problems on the computer and electronics.

How can I make the place safe and protect his equipments with minimum expenses?

    Bookmark   January 17, 2009 at 11:56PM
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    Bookmark   April 30, 2011 at 7:32PM
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