Should I install GFCI outlets or run new grounded cabling in my older home?


I am renovating an old home(90 years) that my wife and I just purchased. The electrical system in the house is outdated - some of the outlets appear to be knob and tube but most are the brass and silver; forgive me if this is incorrect info, I honestly know very little.

To the point - We do not have grounded outlets and I started replacing the 2 prong outlets with 3 prong outlets (without installing the ground). I realized this is a bad idea and decided to start researching. I am a little confused because I hear opposing arguments on whether or not the GFCI outlets are able to compensate, to some degree, for the inability to short circuit on demand.

I have read that the GFCI are good for nothing more than water running into the outlet whereas the actual ground would short circuit if there was a problem with too much electric output or metal coming into contact.

My question is: Could I replace the 2 prong outlets with GFCI and call it good, or should I be...

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You can wire an single additional Romex from the 2nd electrical box off to a 4th for outlets. Just make sure that you use the proper gauge wire (should be 12 AWG for 20A circuit).

If the current 2nd outlet is wired in a manner where the incoming wires are attached to the one set of screws and the outgoing run is connected to the other set of screws on the outlet then you will have to do a little juggling around to accomodate the added outgoing run. I would suggest to remove all current connections off that outlet and use good quality wire nuts of the correct size to join all the live wires (blacks), three from the Romex cables plus a 4th pigtail together. Do the same for all the neutrals (whites). The pigtails would connect to the 2nd outlet to connect it to the circuit. Lastly all the safety grounds (bare or greens) need to be wired together, connected to the box and to the green screw of the...

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Pigtail it

Heavier wire for long runs is a good thing. If it's just a problem of fitment of the wire, solve that with a pigtail.

Get the correct size cable for your circuit (12AWG for a 20A circuit, 12 or 14 AWG for a 15A circuit). Cut off a 6" length of each wire, attach them to the receptacle (tip, do this sitting at a bench, a real back saver), then simply wire-nut those pigtails onto the wires in the box. Push it all into the back of the box. Done.

Why 2 GFCIs though?

If you don't know what you're doing, you should only use the LINE terminals of the GFCI. But then, you did come over from the Electronics forum. So here's the skinny.

The LOAD terminals are special. They are not simply another pair of screws like on a common outlet.

When you extend the circuit off the LOAD terminals, that extension is also protected by the GFCI. Feeding that into another GFCI is basically doing a "Yo, dawg" joke. it's not dangerous, just...

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There's nothing inherently wrong with this plan

The NEC just says that GFCI protection is required for such-and-such circuits. It doesn't specify whether a receptacle, breaker, or deadfront device is used for that job; in your case, since you are dealing with a fused panelboard (aka fuse box), you can't use GFCI breakers, so you need to use a receptacle or deadfront device instead, wired as a feed-through. Deadfront GFCIs may be preferable to receptacles in this application (to avoid a profusion of receptacles of confusing provenance near your fusebox).

But, it doesn't scale as well to that other interrupter device

However, the situation changes slightly when you start considering AFCI protection. Receptacle-type AFCIs are available; however, they fall into a different class of devices than their breaker-type brethren. In particular, receptacle-type AFCIs are universally Outlet Branch Circuit (OBC) AFCIs. These are limited in their protection capabilities...

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OH BOY! Some serious misconceptions going on here.
First, GFI Receptacles WILL work without a ground. IN FACT they are a better solution than leaving ungrounded 3 prong outlets in place. AND the only other acceptable (Meets Code) solutions are GFCI breakers or going back to 2 prong outlets.

See the National Electric Code, Article 406 in its entirety.

Now, Look carefully at the boxes the outlets are mounted in. As has been pointed out already, You MAY have a "means of grounding" and not be aware of it. IF there is metal pipe or MC cable at the box OR if there is a (short) piece of wire attached to the back of the box, You MIGHT have a good ground. NOT a Great ground, not one that that meets current installation practices, but a usable ground none the less. IF you think you may have one of those situations get a good quality meter and check for continuity across the neutral and the "ground" and look for 120v hot to "ground" IF Both read correctly, go ahead and ground...

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First off, Thanks to all of you for the quick responses & detailed information you guys have given me, I really appreciate it very much. You guys have been VERY HELPFUL!!!

Now I'll try to answer your replys/questions:

1-yes, it is a new GFCI that won't reset unless its correctly energized on the line side.

2-Nothing has changed on that circuit that I know of,in fact, the room where the charring occured, is a spare bedroom, & is very rarely used.

3-The number on the breaker for this circuit is 20 (amp).

4-I'm sure my house isn't up to "current" code, considering it was build in the mid 50's.


1- I purchased another new GFI receptacle, with the built in trip-lite, just to be sure it was the most up to date type.

2-See below for the results that i got for testing the receptacles & wiring.

3-I have a digital multi-meter & know the basics for using it (if this...

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Check your local wiring codes and schedule inspections.

Several inspections and permits are required for most residential construction projects, especially when it involves electrical work.


To make sure you're up to code, you may need to schedule temporary service inspection, a rough-in inspection, and a final inspection. This needs to be done whether you're doing it yourself or hiring a subcontractor.

The National Electrical Code requires all GFCIs within 5 feet of the floor to be child-safe and clearly marked. Outdoor GFCIs must also be weather resistant and clearly marked, even if it has a weather cover. Check your local wiring codes to see if a GFCI is an acceptable replacement for a non-grounded two-prong outlet. There are acceptable installation procedures for non-grounded GFCI usually involving putting a sticker on the outlet cover stating "Non-Appliance Ground." In some areas, you may need a GFCI due to nearby water...
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Maybe you should learn how to do the job better.

Before drilling horizontally you survey the wall, even going so far as to use metal detectors and bore-scopes in tiny (1/4 inch) hols to look around and see what might be in the way (you have heard of these tools, right?).

Steel pipe is not much of an issue it it is hit.
An augur type drill bit will not penetrate, but will be deflected to the side (if not stopped) and can deflect and no longer follow a straight path (especially on a flex bit).

In one historic house we went so far as to x-ray the walls since it was not apparent how they had been finished inside the post and beam construction. It was a huge job moving the lead around to block the x-rays from continuing past the film plates.

Smooth walls remain pretty easy to repair, with textured or decorated plaster abut as hard as it gets.

Sometimes the shortest path is NOT the way to go.
Instead of massive ceiling repairs to...

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Please refer to my post under "my outlets are upside down ;(" for a discussion of alternatives to running new ground wire. In short, you can replace your outlets with GFCI outlets, which would be slightly expensive ($7-$15 an outlet), but less expensive than re-wiring or hiring a pro to re-wire.

Wiring a ground wire is virtually the same as re-wiring the entire house: it is a big deal, especially through finished walls. You can do it, but you will need to figure out the electrical plan and how wires run through the house to service that plan. As Electric Bill wrote, please read up on doing it if you plan to do it yourself. Buy one of the Electrical Wiring Books. Homne Depot just came out with one, and Black and Decker publishes one that I use that is great.

Metal conduit is fine for a grounda, although not perfect. It is less preferable to a seperate ground wire because it is exposed, which could shock you if a short circuit occurs. The current returns through the...

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GFCI Protection Without a Ground Wire

Electrical Question: Can I install a GFCI outlet on a 2wire circuit that does not have a ground wire?

I work in a lot of older homes with a 2 wire circuits. Is a GFI outlet able to be legal on a 2 wire system? If not how do I make it work?

Additional Comments: I’m glad I found your site, I’ve learned a few things and refreshed on a few things.
Background: Donald, a Handyman from Lackawanna, New York.

Dave’s Reply:
Thanks for your electrical question Donald.

How to Install a GFCI Outlet Without a Ground Wire

Application: Wiring a GFCI Outlet.
Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate – Best installed by a Licensed Electrician.
Tools Required: Basic Electricians Tool Pouch and a Voltage Tester.
Estimated Time: Depends on personal level experience, ability to work with tools and the number of GFI outlets that will be installed.
Precaution: Identify the outlet circuit, turn...

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One of the most common electrical defects that I find when inspecting old houses in the Twin Cities is ungrounded three prong outlets. This happens when a standard three prong outlet is wired without the ground wire being connected. Today I’ll give a brief explanation of what the third prong is for, and I’ll discuss a few ways to correct a mis-wired three prong outlet. I didn’t consult an attorney before writing this article, so I feel like I should add a disclaimer before giving any electrical how-to advice: Don’t do any of this work if you’re not qualified. This is only an overview.

The third prong on an outlet is commonly referred to as ‘the ground’, and it provides an alternate path for electricity that may stray from an appliance or product. This is an important safety feature that has been required since 1962, which minimizes the risk of electric shock, and allows surge protectors to protect your electrical equipment, such as televisions, computers, stereos, and other...

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So, you have two-prong outlet receptacles and want three-prong outlets. I will try to address common questions regarding two-prong outlets, and what can be done about it. If you have specific questions not covered(or needs clarifying) regarding the subject of two-prong outlets, please read this entire post before posting a new thread. This thread will be monitored indefinitely. Please understand that this post is very limited and the unique situations homes have are limitless.As an electrician, I will always advise you get a professional look at your wiring and discuss your options. You may accidentally make your situation worse. PROCEED WITH CAUTION

Code followed: NFPA 70 NEC 2011 and 23rd (2015) edition of the CEC (CSA C22.1)

Updated 03/08/17 Added CEC

Part 1: Common Questions

Are my existing two-prong outlets dangerous?

Assuming the wiring and outlet itself are okay, most likely not. There are a couple of issues that surround two prong...

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There are a lot of homes on the market today that still have ungrounded outlets throughout the house. During my home inspections, I recommend that my clients upgrade some of these outlets, depending upon what they plan on utilizing these ungrounded outlets for. Not all ungrounded outlets need to be upgraded, so let's go over (in detail) the options you have in upgrading ungrounded outlets.

Let's start off by distinguishing an ungrounded outlet from a grounded outlet.

The ungrounded outlets are easily distinguishable by their two slot configuration verses the newer grounded type of outlets that have the two slots with a hole (ground socket) centered under the slots. For this particular article, I will refer to these outlets as UNGROUNDED outlets and GROUNDED outlets.

Older wiring never contained a ground wire so any ungrounded outlets in your home were originally wired in this manner and are considered acceptable, but they do have their safety issues....

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Do you need extra outlets, and you'd rather plug into a wall? Power bars are unsightly and who wants extension cords snaking all over the floor? Besides, these can be fire hazards as well as overly attractive to small children.

Maybe you are changing the location of the TV or installing an over-the-range microwave, or maybe you bought a new computer desk. Whatever the reason, there isn't a handy outlet for the equipment and you need one. This is when it becomes necessary to add a new plug-in by wiring it into an existing one.

This article will walk you through not only the mechanics of putting a new electrical outlet into the wall, but also running the wire and tapping into the existing circuit. The tools and materials will be discussed as well as the procedures and tips for doing the job in the easiest manner possible.

While the task will take some work and may involve crawling through attics or crawl spaces, it is not particularly esoteric or difficult to...

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Your GFI outlet has five different connectors, and it's important to know which is used for what.

The ground screw is connected to the ground wires coming and going to the box.

There are two sets of connectors for hot (black) and neutral (white) wires. One set, labeled LINE, is used for power coming in to the box, and the other, labeled LOAD, for outlets that will be "downstream" of the GFCI, and be protected by it. Make sure you know which is which- the old outlet will be labeled, as will the new.

If you can't see the markings on the old outlet, turn the power on briefly, and use your non-contact tester to find the hot wire- that's the one bringing power into the box. You'll connect that wire, and its white companion, to the LINE connectors. (And then turn the power off again.)

This GFCI outlet has both push-in and screw terminal connectors; some old timers (and some new-timers) will only use the screw terminals, but actually, the push-in connectors are...

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I’ve been a pro-sound engineer for 40+ years and a musician for 50+ years. During that time, I’ve witnessed hundreds of shock events on performance stages, recording studios, and even factory floors. A survey we ran last year on revealed 70% of the 3,000 musicians who responded had been shocked at least once on stage — some so severely that they were knocked unconscious. I’ve also witnessed dozens of ground-fault current events where signal cables interconnecting sound gear plugged into different electrical outlets mysteriously arced, sometimes turning red hot and melting before my eyes.

The cause behind most of these guitar-to-microphone shocks appears to be incorrectly wired electrical outlet grounds or damaged extension cords. But while a broken-off ground pin on a power cord is the obvious culprit in most home or stage shock situations, many power outlets show they’re wired correctly when checked with a 3-light outlet tester or even a voltmeter...

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The question is often asked, whether it is better to install a GFCI receptacle or a GFCI breaker. While both are ways to add ground fault protection to the circuit being served, there may be some requirements that must be met and to which an electrical inspector may voice his or her opinion on the matter. There are many factors that may weigh into this decision, so let's take a few minutes to examine the possibilities of each.

There has long been discussion, for lack of a better word, about whether the National Electrical Code says that you need to install GFCI outlets or just have GFCI-protected circuits. I and some electrical inspectors have discussed this in detail in some cases. One even told me that his interpretation of the rule is that you cannot feed off the load side of the GFCI and count that regular outlet as a GFCI-protected outlet.

As you can see, the interpretation of the NEC by the electrical inspector can be the final decision You can challenge his or...

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As I go about representing my buyers as an ABR, I find the same topics surfacing each time my clients go through a Whole House Inspection. The issue of the grounded and not grounded outlets. What does it mean, what are they used for, and what happens if they aren’t grounded. After weeks of begging for simple answers to this question, I give you my trusted Licensed Whole House Inspectors response…

In response to your questions pertaining to receptacles commonly found in residential homes I will start with the basics of the old and the new. First, though I would like to identify that I am a licensed home inspector, however for any electrical work and advice on electrical systems I recommend my customers consult with a licensed electrician as needed.

Homes built prior to the early 1960’s were most commonly wired with a two-wire system, absent of the modern third wire being an equipment ground wire. The first requirement for grounded receptacles in residential...

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Since 1971, the NEC has expanded the requirements for ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) to protect anyone who plugs into an electrical system. Initially, it was only required for temporary wiring at construction sites and in dwelling unit bathrooms, but in recent years the Code requirements for GFCI protection have expanded to include many other areas, including commercial occupancies, fountains and swimming pools, and temporary installations, to name a few. (For a complete list of 2002 NEC references, see the sidebar below)

Commercial occupancies. Per 210.8, you must install GFCI protection for all 15A and 20A, 125V receptacles located in bathrooms, rooftops, and kitchens in commercial/industrial facilities. However, GFCI protection is not required for receptacles installed outside a commercial or industrial occupancy.

In addition, 210.63 requires you to install a 15A or 20A, 125V receptacle outlet within 25 ft of heating, air conditioning,...

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I did this to an entire house once. And it passed inspection (well, the home inspector hired by the buyer didn't detect any problems)

...because he couldn't see the problems!

Specifically, I ran a short wire from the ground lug on the (new) outlet down behind the wall to the floor. I had to poke a hole in the wall just above the framing 2x4 for the wire to exit into the room, but the baseboards covered the holes. This wire was then spliced into the main grounding wire for that room which in turn ran all the way to the neutral bus in the main breaker panel.

If by this you mean that you hid splices under the baseboard, then this is wrong. You aren't supposed to hide splices. It would have been much better (and legal) to string wire from outlet to outlet, splicing them inside the outlet box. Probably less work, too.

Don’t link all the outlets in the house to the same ground wire because that turns your house into a huge Farakahn cage...or...

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So what you're saying is that the wiring in the renovation with the 3 prong outlets isn't grounded either? Yikes. I don't see how you were even able to buy that home with wiring like that. That should have been something an inspector checked for.

A grounding rod should have been installed outside your home. Any electrical conduit (and thus boxes the two prong outlets are installed in) should have then been tied to ground, as well as plumbing, phone, and cable television wiring.

Get that electrician back in there pronto to ground your house. If the electrical conduit is grounded, you can install 3 prong outlets and ground those to the electrical box.

In a pinch, you can ground your equipment to two prong outlets by using one of these:

See the little green tab? That is for grounding. What you do is plug this device into the two prong outlet and run the outlet plate screw though the green tab. The screw will thread into the metal chassis of the...

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Yes. Section 406.3(D)(3) of the 2008 National Electric Code permits a non-grounding type receptacle to be replaced with a grounding type receptacle without a grounding connection. However, the grounding receptacle must be GFCI-protected. The diagram below shows a typical non-grounding (2-prong) receptacle replaced with a GFCI. The GFCI must be marked, No Equipment Ground. The GFCI can feed through to a grounding receptacle, which must be marked GFCI Protected. No Equipment Ground. For increased electrical safety, Leviton strongly recommends installing a GFCI in every non-grounding circuit. A ground wire provides protection by offering a parallel path back to ground for any fault current. Without a ground wire, fault current will try and take other paths to ground and a GFCI will trip and cut power under these hazardous conditions. Ground faults are more likely to occur in non-grounding circuits and a GFCI will help protect family members from this potentially hazardous...

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Welcome to the forums!

The number on the panel says 20, once again, i'm assuming that means 20 amps.

If, when you say "the number on the panel," you're referring to the number imprinted into the handle of the circuit breaker protecting this circuit, then yes, this is a circuit protected at 20 amperes.

It seems to be on the same circuit as the bathroom adjacent to it and one of the living room outlets downstairs.

The receptacle in your picture is obviously at the end of the circuit. If the cable comes to it from the receptacle in the adjacent bathroom, you should be able to install the GFCI receptacle in that bathroom, terminate the wires in the cable coming to this bathroom to the LOAD terminals on the GFCI and the power-in wires to the LINE terminals, and install a standard duplex receptacle in this bathroom. Both receptacles will then be GFCI protected. A 15A GFCI receptacle is rated for 20A pass-through and can be used there.

Can you...

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