Ungrounded three prongs: What you need to know.

An outlet tester showing reverse polarity

The bottom prong on an electrical plug allows the ground wire to bond electrical components when an issue occurs.   In normal conditions, there should never be a current on the ground wire, but it’s necessary on an outlet to allow surge protectors to do their jobs and prevent electrocution. When a three-prong outlet is installed with wires only connected to the top two prongs, it’s called an “ungrounded three-prong outlet”. It is a common issue in old houses that can be corrected easily (by professionals only!). In the 2014 National Electric Code (NEC), there are several options listed to repair this defect under section 406.4(D). 

Option 1: Existing ground path

If a ground path exists, it must be used. Ground paths have been required in every home built after 1962, meaning that the only repair for an ungrounded outlet in a home built after 1962 is to ground it. A two-lead tester can be used to see if the electrical box is grounded. If it is, all that needs to be done is connect the outlet to the box with a wire. This is known as an equipment bonding jumper.

Option 2: No existing ground path 

There are three options to replace an outlet in a home with no ground path. The first is to install a two-prong outlet, but this is not a recommended method because using a three-prong adapter to connect a three-prong device with a two-prong outlet is unsafe if the outlet is not grounded properly. The second option is to install a GFCI outlet, which will help prevent electrocution, but will still not allow a surge protector to do its job. If this method is used, a sticker stating “No Equipment Ground” needs to be attached to the face of the outlet. 

The third option is to install a three-prong outlet but add GFCI protection at either the breaker panel or somewhere between the outlet and the breaker panel. Labels must be applied to the outlet in this case as well, stating “GFCI Protected” and “No Equipment Ground”.

Hurricane Michael

Florence and Michael

Last week I was in Wilmington North Carolina inspecting some damage from Hurricane Florence. The people on the coast, as resilient as they are, have many challenges ahead of them to full recovery. Some of the people will have to completely rebuild. The majority of the properties I inspected had damage that included trees and roofing. Tonight as I watched the evening news and saw hurricane Michael bearing down on the Florida Panhandle, I am thankful to be safe and warm nestled in the WNC mountains. But it also made me remember that I haven’t cleaned my gutters.

Here in Asheville, I doubt we will experience anything close to the damage at the coast or the gulf.  The mountains and rainforest seem to buffer or temper most storms.  But at our latitude, we are situated where tropical storms or hurricanes moving in  north from the gulf  can cause us to experience high volumes of rain.

Fall cleaning

If you have gutters without gutter guards (and you haven’t looked at in a couple months) it important to have a qualified person clean them out. If you have guards, be sure they are all in place.  A partial system of gutter guards will allow leaves into the system.  If there is debris in the gutters, there will be debris in the downspouts.  Most downspouts drain into subterranean drains. These are corrugated drains that will drain back into the soil or exit onto hillsides.

Field of Drains

I have worked with a few septic companies around WNC.   I remember last year there was a storm that affected most of Buncombe County and neighboring counties. It was difficult to schedule a septic inspection because storms had stalled over Western North Carolina and dumped so much water in the area that c septic systems became overrun. If you are on a septic system and you are able to move extensions, consider pointing downspouts or extensions away from the septic field so that excess rain water doesn’t drain onto the field.  Doing this will avoid a water- logged system and an earlier pumping.

Making the Grade

To help avoid having water enter your basement or crawlspace, be sure there is a positive slope away from your house. This may mean hiring somebody to grade your yard so water flows away from the foundation.    Many times when I’m inspecting homes, I find efflorescence in basements.  This can be seen on block foundation walls or on stacked stone or rubble walls. Efflorescence is a white substance that can be viewed on the foundation wall that is basically salt from hydrostatic pressure where water has moved through the foundation.  This is a calling card of negative slope at the perimeter of the house.  Many times water staining could be avoided in the corners of most basements with proper water management from the gutters and grade.  Most water found in crawl spaces could also be minimized through similar water management.


After the Storm

Our thoughts and prayers are with the many displaced families affected by the recent hurricanes. Asheville Home Inspections will be giving 10% of our proceeds to the Red Cross to help people affected by the recent storms until the end of the year.

If you have a little extra to give, click on the Red Cross link below.