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Thadius856 06-01-2011 10:49 PM

Buying Older Home - Where to Start? :(
Been searching high and low for days. Can't find anybody with the same situation (or possible solution) as I'm looking at.

Buying a home build in '58. Home inspector said it was converted from fuse to breakers, and it is indeed on the exterior of the home with a good ground. Thank God for that, at least.

However, he could only find one grounded outlet in the entire home, and every outlet has been replaced with a 3-prong fixture. -.- Oddly enough, it's a living room outlet on a non-structural partition wall... and not in the kitchen. I have no idea where to start with running ground wires!

I'm told that I could probably get away with a drilling downward through the inside of the wall using some sort of pivot attachment with an extension, run the wire into the crawl space, utilize a pipe clamp, and finish the hole from underneath with spray foam. However, I can't find one of these pivots (link please?) and worry about a few things.

Will this work? Is there a more elegant way that's still reasonably easy? I also have attic space and can cut/patch the drywall if need be. Do I need any specific type/size/coating for the new grounds?

Thanks in advance. :) Looking forward to reading these boards... a lot. :)

darren 06-01-2011 10:53 PM

You could always find the first plug in the circuit and put a GFI on the circuit. A ground wire is not needed. Most of my plugs in my house are still the old 2 wire outlets and it is not an issue.

I beleive you can buy new 2 prong outlets and replace them to make it legal.

Thadius856 06-01-2011 11:17 PM

I'll certainly consider putting a GFI on the first run of a circuit. Question is... how could I determine this? I'm guessing there's some set of tools I just don't have... yet. ;)

I'm going to need to need to ground the living room, at least. I plan on having quite a bit of electronic equipment in there on surge protectors. Will my original idea work in that case?

Perry401 06-02-2011 01:50 AM

First I would talk to your local inspectional services department to see what they recommned. They most certainly will require some changes.

Start by making sure that the one grounded outlet is really grounded. You might have a phoneyed up ground. Turn off the circuit and take off the cover of the outlet, then remove the mounting screws at the top and bottom of the outlet and pull it GENTLY forward so you can inspect the wiring. If there are three wires coming into the box -- a white, a black, and a green or bare wire then you probably have a grounded circuit. This may have been upgraded for a TV, aquarium or other item that used to sit in the living room. If there are more than these three wires, then this outlet feeds other items in the house. The important thing is that unless the house has conduit, the bare or green ground wire MUST come in from someplace outside the box. It should be connected to the box (assuming it is metal) and also to the outlet device (unless it has a special self-grounding clip on one of the mounting screws). If the ground wire terminal on the outlet is connected to any other wire on the outlet or anything else in the box but a legitimite ground, you don't really have a ground and this outlet needs to be fixed too!

Your inspector should be able to tell you what he/she wants you to do about the issue. I had the exact same issue in a rental house my wife and I moved into when we first got married over 30 years ago. The inspector took one look at the outlets that were all 3 prong, and made the decisision that a previous owner, by putting the grounded outlets into the outlet boxes had "upgraded" the building's wiring to a grounded system, and that the since it was "upgraded" it would not be permissible to "downgrade" it by installing 2-prong outlets to make things the way they used to be.

The building owner almost had a heart attack when she got the estimate on how much running new romex to everything in the house would cost. I went with her to appeal the inspector's descision. He claimed that the act of installing 3-prong outlets "changed" the circuit to a gorunded circuit, and everything else would have to be upgraded to make this work. My claim was that the 3-prong outlets were installed on a non-grounded circuit, and that the act of installing the wrong hardware did not change the circuit to a grounded system. I stated that it was un-realistic to expect the owner to change everything because someone did something wrong, and that returning everything to the conditions they were in before the changes were made should be an acceptable corrective action. The appeals board agreed with me and I was able to install 2-prong outlets throughout the house to make everything legal again.

A few years later I ran into this same inspector again, and again got into a problem with him. I had repaired the floor in the upstairs bathroom in a different house, and had run a 12-3 cable along the joists to the center of the living room below. This cable was not powered up or connected to any power source. I simply ran it knowing that some day I might want to install a ceiling fan or light in the living room, and with the walls opened up for the plumbing repairs, the cable could be installed more easily.

The inspector saw this un-attached wire during his inspection and wrote a "stop work" order. He claimed that the existence of the wire was "proof" that I intended to make further wiring changes to the house without pulling permits. He gave me two options -- complete the circuit by installing the lamp or a fan, or remove the wire in it's entirety. (How I was supposed to do this while the work was "stopped" I do not know.) I choose the second option, letting him re-approve the rest of the work, then after he left I re-installed the cable I had run for future work.


bobelectric 06-02-2011 03:57 AM

Have an electrician give an assessment on the service entrance. That era wiring might have the nm style cable w/ground.

Jim Port 06-02-2011 06:07 AM

Since the wiring is so old the circuits may not be up to the load you plan on adding. Another solution is to add new grounded circuits where needed and leave the old stuff.

You can install a GFI breaker. That way you don't need to find the first receptacle.

Just Bill 06-02-2011 06:26 AM

There was grounded cable available then. The ground conductor was wrapped around the cable where it enters the box, and the box clamps tightened on the wrapped ground. This grounded the box, as long as the clamps were tight. Many times, I have pulled the cable out far enough to unwrap the ground and bring it into the box, where they were twisted and properly connected to the box and fixture strap.

Technically, even if there are no grounds in your cable, that is legal, granfathered. Using 3 prong ungrounded outlets is not. What they said above about GFI outlets.

HouseHelper 06-02-2011 08:49 AM

Adding the GFCI will NOT make it a grounded circuit. You will have personal shock protection, but still no ground. If you need a ground you either have to run w/g cable (Romex) as a new circuit or run a separate ground wire to each receptacle that is tied back to the service grounding electrode system. Solid 12ga THHN/THWN wire can be fished up from the crawlspace to the box thru the existing holes (assuming old wiring is done from the crawlspace) without much difficulty. All depends on whether you want a new circuit or just a few grounded receptacles. For all the others, just replace the 3-prong with 2-prong.

darren 06-02-2011 05:23 PM

If you are adding surge protectors you will need to run properly grounded circuits.

Surge protectors will not work without a grounding conductor.

concretemasonry 06-02-2011 05:46 PM

Have you already signed and committed yourself? If it was a recent home inspection, the inspector should have noted the lack of a grounds and hopefully suggested getting an electrician take a look at it before you sign on the fine for the purchase. No home inspector is a specialist in every system (that is why they are so much cheaper than using specialty contractors for every item), but he should have noted the deficiencies in his report. - That is why they sell the cute little plugs with the lanalyzing lights on them.

It might be good enough for you now, but the value and saleability in the future will be less, especially with the lack of grounds and a poor, but temporarily usable electrical system. In the future, it is a "red flag" for buyers.


AandPDan 06-02-2011 07:52 PM

I feel for you.

One month ago I bought a house built in 1959. Originally it had fuses, it was converted to breakers in 1994. Sound familiar?

I have the same situation with the outlets. Luckily, I do have grounded cable, at the box clamps, and was able to connect some grounds.

But, that's the least of the problems. I only have 3 circuits that run the entire house. There are only 2 outlets in some of the rooms. Nothing is 20 amp. I'm finding taped splices in the walls, disconnected wires in the walls, all sorts of neat surprises.

My advice, if you can run new wire all the way to the panel.

WillK 06-02-2011 08:31 PM

Open up my profile and read about what I've been through trying to do my own replacement on my 1917 house. I have a newer 100 amp service that appeared professionally installed, but there was at best a lot of compromise, a lot of original wiring was in the system and a LOT of wiring that was done in a way that NEVER complied with ANY code was in the house.

Here's where to start: do a permit history search. When I did this on my house, it turns out that there has NEVER been an electrical permit.

Not that there's much to do because of that history, but it can give a sense of whether anything is worth keeping or not.

The starting point is the incoming service and panel because this is the foundation of the electrical system.

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