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Old 05-15-2008, 10:07 PM   #1
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apartment: 3-pronged, ungrounded outlets


I just moved into a new, older walk-up apartment (not sure of age).

According to my Belkin surge protector, it turns out that 4 of the outlets (2x2) are not grounded (3-pronged). What makes things worse is that I was planning on using these outlets for my most expensive equipment (computers/stereos).

question 1: Does this pose a hazard to my electrical equipment in any way?
question 2: Does this pose a hazard to me in any way?
question 3: In a worst case scenario, how much would it cost to fix the grounding issue (by a certified electrician)? Ballpark figure here.

I called an electrician about the issue, and he said having 3-pronged outlets without grounding is against code. He said that if an inspector sees it, he will basically make the landlord fix the issue. So technically, I could just tell the landlord it needs fixing, and it should be good to go within the 30 day window (or I can take his ass to court, etc.). However, if I can avoid pissing off the landlord and getting by without fixing this, I will (especially if the answer to 3 is a big cost). However, I will only do this if the question to 1 or 2 is yes.

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Old 05-15-2008, 10:53 PM   #2
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apartment: 3-pronged, ungrounded outlets


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Originally Posted by pro_DIYer View Post
I just moved into a new, older walk-up apartment (not sure of age).

According to my Belkin surge protector, it turns out that 4 of the outlets (2x2) are not grounded (3-pronged). What makes things worse is that I was planning on using these outlets for my most expensive equipment (computers/stereos).

question 1: Does this pose a hazard to my electrical equipment in any way?
question 2: Does this pose a hazard to me in any way?
question 3: In a worst case scenario, how much would it cost to fix the grounding issue (by a certified electrician)? Ballpark figure here.

I called an electrician about the issue, and he said having 3-pronged outlets without grounding is against code. He said that if an inspector sees it, he will basically make the landlord fix the issue. So technically, I could just tell the landlord it needs fixing, and it should be good to go within the 30 day window (or I can take his ass to court, etc.). However, if I can avoid pissing off the landlord and getting by without fixing this, I will (especially if the answer to 3 is a big cost). However, I will only do this if the question to 1 or 2 is yes.
If the building complied with the electric code when it was wired, it is fine as far as code goes with 2 prong receptacles. But, if three prong receptacles were installed without a proper ground, that would be a violation of the electric code. The landlord could remedy this by re-installing 2 prong receptacle outlets.

1. No, but most surge suppressors need a ground to function properly.
2. Not really unless you have a conducting floor such as concrete.
3. Rewiring with 3 conductor wiring, or installing GFCI receptacles are options. The GFCI still would not be grounded, just safer. Only a local contractor could estimate the price.

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Old 05-15-2008, 11:03 PM   #3
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apartment: 3-pronged, ungrounded outlets


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If the building complied with the electric code when it was wired, it is fine as far as code goes with 2 prong receptacles. But, if three prong receptacles were installed without a proper ground, that would be a violation of the electric code. The landlord could remedy this by re-installing 2 prong receptacle outlets.

1. No, but most surge suppressors need a ground to function properly.
2. Not really unless you have a conducting floor such as concrete.
3. Rewiring with 3 conductor wiring, or installing GFCI receptacles are options. The GFCI still would not be grounded, just safer. Only a local contractor could estimate the price.
Thanks for the quick and knowledgeable answer.

1. Are older buildings (i.e. older wiring) more susceptible to power spikes/surges?
2. Is laminate flooring conductive? How about ceramic?
3. If all the other outlets in the house are grounded, does that support the idea that these non-grounded outlets are a quick, behind the outlet rewiring fix, rather than an infrastructure problem?

Thanks in advance.
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Old 05-16-2008, 09:42 AM   #4
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apartment: 3-pronged, ungrounded outlets


Your landlord could install GFCI receptacles and meet code. The ground could be left off GFCI receptacles if not present.
If all the other receptcles show ground it could mean one of three things.
1. There is a ground available to hook up.
2. Someone rewired with new cable to add a ground.
3. Someone bootlegged the receptcle to make it LOOK like there is a ground. I'm not going to tell you how to do this.

Last edited by joed; 05-16-2008 at 09:53 PM.
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Old 05-16-2008, 09:54 AM   #5
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apartment: 3-pronged, ungrounded outlets


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Your landlord could install GFCI receptacles and meet code. The ground could be left off GFCI receptacles if not present.
Perhaps this is what we're looking at, i.e. the landlord installed a GFCI and then powered the existing outlets from its LOAD terminals. Then he could have upgraded the recepts to 3-prong. These receptacles would not have an equipment grounding conductor (and should have been tagged as such).

In the absence of an equipment grounding conductor, the ability of the surge supressor to actually protect the connected equipment is diminished. In a gross overvoltage event (i.e. lightning), it is going to want to shunt the energy to ground and with no ground connection, there is no path to do so. Sort of like plugging the overflow in your bathroom sink. You can do it and everything will be hunky-dory until your kids drop a wash cloth in the sink, turn the water on and book on outside to play!
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Old 05-16-2008, 10:30 AM   #6
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apartment: 3-pronged, ungrounded outlets


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Perhaps this is what we're looking at, i.e. the landlord installed a GFCI and then powered the existing outlets from its LOAD terminals. Then he could have upgraded the recepts to 3-prong. These receptacles would not have an equipment grounding conductor (and should have been tagged as such).
Good catch Jim. My brain left out the possibility of the receptacles on that circuit being fed from a GFCI circuit breaker. There would be no ground, but the install would be perfectly legal. A look in the panel might be in order. Or there could be a GFCI receptacle outlet somewhere at the start of the circuit. Either way would make these a legal install.
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Old 05-16-2008, 10:48 AM   #7
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apartment: 3-pronged, ungrounded outlets


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3. If all the other outlets in the house are grounded, does that support the idea that these non-grounded outlets are a quick, behind the outlet rewiring fix, rather than an infrastructure problem?
Watch the answers from Joe, he is more knowledgeable on your Canadian wiring and codes than I am.

If all the other outlets are properly grounded (a new twist to the question), these 4 may simply have a loose or missing grounding connection somewhere. If that is the case, the landlord should be notified and the problem repaired. I'm afraid we may have made a mountain from a mole hill on you. You are correct, a quick fix may be entirely possible. I'm sorry I might have led you on a wild goose chase for a day.
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Old 05-16-2008, 11:00 AM   #8
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apartment: 3-pronged, ungrounded outlets


Your LL will end up installing ungrounded 2 prong receptacles, or, installing GFCI protection at the begining of each circuit. Your LL will not rewire the apartment. That is going to be the end result to any official action you take. Most likely, either this LL or a previous LL/owner, or a tenant changed the old 2-prong receptacles to 3-prong, and probably to get rid of the old "junk" and not to indicate or suggest that the wiring had been updated.

There are quite literally millions of people living in apartments and houses with ungrounded electrical systems. They're leases are not death certificates. Generally, most things you need to power in a residential setting are double insulated and require no ground anyway. In my entire kitchen nothing has the 3rd prong except the microwave and the refrigerator. Most laptops have an external power supply with no 3rd prong, and if it does have the 3rd prong the ground is only brought to the inverter itself, not into the actual computer.

Many power tools even professional grade no longer have ground pins either, as their motors and housings comprise "double insulation."

As far as voltage surges/spikes... their disastorous effects and frequency of occurance are GREATLY EXAGGERATED by those who manufacture and sell products to LESSEN (but impossible to eliminate) their effects. As far as lightning goes, NOTHING you do can save your electronic equipment from a direct lightning strike. And no product can "ward off" or lessen the impact of a direct strike.

Now, if you were building a computer room to house the mainframe for Citicorp, I'd be looking into backup systems, clean power and automatic power management syatems, and uninterruptible power supplies, proper grounding and bonding of all integrated systems, etc. But demanding similar consideration (even on a smaller scale) for a flat screen TV and a personal computer tower from a tenant in a an old walkup in Canada is just downright ridiculious.

Last edited by LawnGuyLandSparky; 05-16-2008 at 11:05 AM.
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Old 05-20-2008, 07:57 PM   #9
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apartment: 3-pronged, ungrounded outlets


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Now, if you were building a computer room to house the mainframe for Citicorp, I'd be looking into backup systems, clean power and automatic power management syatems, and uninterruptible power supplies, proper grounding and bonding of all integrated systems, etc. But demanding similar consideration (even on a smaller scale) for a flat screen TV and a personal computer tower from a tenant in a an old walkup in Canada is just downright ridiculious.
It's all relative, really.

I have quite a number of towers and other gizmos (switches, routers, etc.). It's like a mini, personal Citicorp.

As long as my hardware is safe, that's all I really care about. I've just never had to deal with ungrounded outlets, so it's a bit alien to me.
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Old 10-15-2008, 05:22 PM   #10
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apartment: 3-pronged, ungrounded outlets


I found this site when I moved into a late 40's building that is my city apartment/office.

I'm a musician, when I moved in I was using a relatively modern guitar amp, there was some hum but I just figured it was the amp (Fender Blues Junior) which is known to be a bit noisy, especially the reverb. Didn't bother me cause I was just using it for a few minutes a day. My stereo(s) work fine with no hum (a 1980 Braun system and a 2003 Roksan system) but I picked up a "boutique" amp (Clara Super Deluxe) and it hums like crazy with a hospital grade 3 prong, it doesn't in places that I know to have properly grounded wiring.

So, it must be something in the apartment wiring (i've tried the amp in all the wall outlets, same hum. I found an illegal 3 prong to 2 prong adaptor and filed down the nub on one of the prongs so I could reverse polarity. Still the same amount of hum. All the outlets have 3 prong ability, I know the previous owner of the building was kinda shady so I expect the outlets were changed but the apartment wasn't rewired/grounded properly... If anyone can help me it would be greatly appreciated. Cheers Peter/fenderbender

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