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Old 03-15-2012, 07:05 PM   #1
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2 prong to 3 prong outlets - need help!


Hey guys,

I am trying to convert several 2 prong to 3 prong outlets throughout my house that was built in 1959. I have attached 2 photographs of the outlet, one from the right, and one from the left.

You will see the right side of the outlet has a RED and a BLACK wire attached to it. The left side has a WHITE wire.

I took the Menards employees advice that the black wire was most likely the ground, hooked it up, and blew a fuse (time delay fuses....). When I tried screwing in another fuse, it blew right away. This happened about 4 times and I got frustrated and decided to try this forum.

Any ideas as to which cable would be the ground, if any?? I'm pretty new to all of this. Any advice?

Thanks!
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Old 03-15-2012, 07:13 PM   #2
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2 prong to 3 prong outlets - need help!


The Menards employee gave wrong advice. Black and red are hot, white is neutral.

You do not have a ground at this location.

Questions:

1. Does a switch control one or both halves of this receptacle?
2. Is there a thin metal bridge going between the two screws with the red and black wires?

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Old 03-15-2012, 07:29 PM   #3
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2 prong to 3 prong outlets - need help!


Hard to tell by the picture, but I bet the outlet is a half hot.

Meaning that half of it IS controlled by a switch.

If you look at the old switch there should be no connection between the upper screw and the lower screw on each side.

If so, it is a switched "half hot" outlet.



Another thing to think about?


You should NOT convert to a 3 prong outlet unless you use a GFI outlet (or add ground wires).




The below is from an article I found online that explains this.

Old-fashioned two-prong receptacles connected to two-wire cables don't have the ground wires that protect people and electrical devices in case of a fault. Yet it is possible to retrofit a new three-prong or GFCI receptacle into the same outlet box without any rewiring, as long as the box itself is grounded.

Luckily, metal boxes attached to armored, or BX, cable—a type of wiring commonly found in old houses—generally are grounded; the cable's flexible metal jacket serves the same purpose as a dedicated ground wire.

To switch out your receptacles, just follow the steps.

1. Check for ground. Insert one prong of a circuit tester into the receptacle's hot slot (the shorter one), and touch the other to a screw that secures the cover plate. The tester should light up. If it does not, the box is not grounded. You can install a GFCI (see tip at bottom), or call an electrician to fix the wiring.

2. Remove the old receptacle. Turn off the power at the breaker panel or fuse box. Unscrew the old receptacle from the box and detach the wires.

3. Connect the new receptacle. Attach the black (hot) wire to the brass terminal and the white (neutral) wire to the silver. On a GFCI, use the terminals in line with the "line" label on the back of the receptacle. (If your box is not grounded, skip to Step 6.)

4. Fasten the ground screw. This green screw, sold in hardware stores, fits in a threaded hole in the back of the box. Hook one end of an 8-inch green grounding wire or pigtail (also available at hardware stores) to the screw and tighten it.

5. Ground the receptacle. Secure the other end of the 8-inch grounding pigtail to the green grounding terminal on the three-prong or GFCI receptacle. Insert the new receptacle into the box.

6. Turn on the power. Use a circuit tester to make sure the circuit is working.

TOH Tip
Even if an outlet box isn't grounded, installing a GFCI in it will still protect you (and your tools and appliances) from ground faults. But an ungrounded GFCI can't safeguard sensitive electronics, such as a computer or phone, from the interference caused by stray currents. The National Electrical Code requires you to stick a label on the receptacle that reads, "No equipment ground." These labels come in the box with a new GFCI.
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Old 03-15-2012, 07:50 PM   #4
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2 prong to 3 prong outlets - need help!


The ground is always either bare or green.
It is possible there are ground in the back of the box. 1959 was about the time they started using them. I have seen where they wrapped them around the cable and put them under the clamp that holds the cable.

If there are no grounds present then you can use GFCI receptacles. If you use GFCI wou not be able to have them half switched if that is what is going on with the red wire.
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Old 03-15-2012, 07:56 PM   #5
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2 prong to 3 prong outlets - need help!


Thanks for your responses so far.

As far as I can tell, these outlets are not controlled by a switch. On the old outlet, there is no connection between the upper and lower screws. In my fusebox does say that a fuse controls the upper outlet, and a seperate fuse controls the lower.

Safe to say these outlets have no ground wire? None of the three colors are grounded? If not, the best thing is to get a BFI outlet, correct?
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Old 03-15-2012, 08:29 PM   #6
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2 prong to 3 prong outlets - need help!


If you want to go 3 prong, a GFI outlet is the way to go. Especially so if it's a wet area (and it looks to be).


You may find that you'll have to use only one of the fused feeds though. Although that shouldn't be a problem if you wire nut the ends, and maybe eve disconnect the feed at the fuse panel.

Is it 12 gauge wire on a 20amp fuse? Metal back box?
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Old 03-15-2012, 08:59 PM   #7
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2 prong to 3 prong outlets - need help!


If you have 2 fuses protecting this receptacle, you can not use a gfci.
You have a multi wire branch circuit set up.

Where are you located?

That will help get you the right answers.
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Old 03-15-2012, 09:19 PM   #8
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I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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Old 03-15-2012, 09:26 PM   #9
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I just bought a multimeter.... would I be able to test if the metal box is grounded using this And if I find the boxes are grounded, I would be able to manually add ground wires using ktkelly's directions, correct?
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Old 03-15-2012, 09:34 PM   #10
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A grounded reading does not necessarily mean the wiring method will satisfy the code requirement for a grounding means.
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Old 03-16-2012, 09:04 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim Port View Post
A grounded reading does not necessarily mean the wiring method will satisfy the code requirement for a grounding means.
But if the wires run a in a metal conduit from the main panel (should be easy to check at the panel), then it is fine to ground the receptacle to the box, right? I'm in a similar situation BTW.
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Old 03-16-2012, 09:42 AM   #12
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2 prong to 3 prong outlets - need help!


It appears the receptacles are for the kitchen countertop. So I'm on board with this being a multiwire branch circuit. As mentioned by JBfan you will have two fuses in your case. A multiwire branch circuit is able to provide two 120 volt circuits to a single location. Meaning you need to pull both fuses in order to remove power from that receptacle. Red is one hot wire and Black is the other hot wire. Do not work on this unless you understand what is going on. If you mess up you might place 240 volts on the branch circuit.
Your experience level probably tells that this may not be something you should start learning on. I would get professional help or someone that understands house wiring a bit more. You have to make some modifications to the receptacle in order to allow two circuits to land on it. If this is a multiwire there is a brass connection tab in between the two brass screws that must be broken/removed. the problem is in order to be code compliant the replacement receptacles must be gfci type. This complicates things even more as you cannot split a multiwire branch circuit on a gfci receptacle.
You can get the job done but I think you would be better served getting experienced help as this is probably more complicated than what you should be working on.

BTW ... that Menards employee should not be giving any electrical advice and I would go back and speak to a manager. Black is never the ground wire in residential ac wiring .. it is always hot. That advice could have put you in a potentially dangerous situation. Especially since your likely looking at a multiwire branch circuit. NEVER work on a receptacle until you have all the power removed. If you did not pull both fuses or the 'main' then you were working on a receptacle that was still hot.
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Old 03-16-2012, 10:04 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by csab_ View Post
But if the wires run a in a metal conduit from the main panel (should be easy to check at the panel), then it is fine to ground the receptacle to the box, right? I'm in a similar situation BTW.
Metal conduit is a different animal than metallic cables. Conduit is rarely used in houses unless you are in Chicago and a few other areas. Metallic cables were more commonly used. Not all metallic cables, commonly called BX, are a listed means of grounding. A bond strip needs to be in the cable. Without it you cannot use it for grounding, but it will show as grounded.

I have seen old BX glowing red hot from a short to the spiral metal sheath and still not trip the breaker. It did not have the bond wire.

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