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Question DetailsAsked on 7/13/2013

Should ungrounded electrical outlets on an 87 year old house be a deal breaker?

We recently had the home inspected and discovered there are many ungrounded electrical outlets. The outlets have been changed to 3 prong but there are missing grounding wires behind the face plate. Considering the age of the house and the potential for more gremlins if we start running wires, I'd like to get the seller to replace the outlets before we close. Is this unreasonable? Should we walk away from the deal if he refuses to upgrade?

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3 Answers


For an ungrounded wiring system, all 110V receptacles must be 2-prong.


Ground Fault Circuit Interupter (GFCI) receptacles can be used where no ground is present. A sticker must be affixed to the receptacle that reads: "No Equipment Ground" This sticker comes in the box with the GFCI.

I have several customers with ungrounded wiring systems and no problems.

To be safe, avoid metal applicances, fixtures, and cover plates.

Of course, any applicance requiring equipment ground will require running ground from whereever it may be available. This can sometimes be expensive.


Answered 6 years ago by Kestrel Electric


The entire house can be grounded by an electrician. That eliminates the need to have every single outlet grounded. My old house was built in 1929. We have gradually had the house rewired. It's not as hard as you think. Most old houses are built without fire-stops (a horizontal board between 2 vertical framing boards. The lack of fire-stops makes it easier to rewire, add insulation, air-conditioning, etc. Whenever you open a wall for remodeling or repairs, replace wires, add insulation and fire-stops. Our old house was not insulated, though we've added plenty since. Every little bit counts. If your insurance company is happy (and be certain it is before you buy the place) you should buy what you love. Every home is a money-pit that brings long-term benefits (unlike a boat that is a different kind of money-pit).

Source: Self experience.

Answered 6 years ago by Guest_92964621


Realizing your decision has already been made, but if you decided to accept the house without rewiring, here is an upgrade possibilitiy:

A prior comment stated this:

The entire house can be grounded by an electrician. That eliminates the need to have every single outlet grounded.

This might have left the wrong impression - the only way the entire house can be "grounded" is by running a new ground wire (or completely new 3-conductor wire) to every outlet, then replacing the two-wire with three-wire outlets. There is no way to magically "ground the entire house". Perhaps the contributor meant "protected" rather than "grounded", if he was not referring to rewiring the entire house.

One slightly lesser level of protection, which might or might not meet current code depending on your locale, is to replace the circuit breakers on the outlet circuits (except those exempt or unusable with AFCI, like major appliances and fire alarms) with AFCI (Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter) breakers, then install a GFCI outlet as the first outlet in each outlet circuit. You can also do this by putting an outlet, even if unused, as the first device in each lighting circuit also to protect agaisnt lighting circuit faults, though putting an outlet on a lighting circuit may violate code in some jurisdictions. Some types of breaker boxes have combined GFCI/AFCI breakers made for them, so you could do that if available.

This arrangement would provide both the modern new-construction required (in most jurisdictions) AFCI protection, which detects arcing and shuts off the circuit and is intended to prevent fires; and GFCI, which detects current in the neutral or return wire being different that that in the black or "live" wire (meaning some of it is going to ground somewhere), and is designed to protect people and equipment from short circuits and "shocks". If you use GFCI's on this type of setup on a 2-wire circuit, you have to be sure to buy the type of GFCI outlet that does NOT require a ground wire to work - some makes have to have a ground wire or they will not turn on at all. GFCI's installed without a ground wire have to be labelled with a sticker stating, as I recall (your electrician should know) something like "no equipment ground".

This solution would mean a few hundred $ in new breakers and outlets, but avoids having to rewire the house or replace all outlets, so would be significantly cheaper in the short run, though it does not get rid of the 2-wire issue upon resale.

Answered 6 years ago by LCD

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