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Old 09-30-2008, 02:39 PM   #1
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Electrical weirdness


I wall mounted a plasma TV in my bedroom this past weekend. There is an 3-prong outlet directly below the TV and I had planned on pigtailing and extending the wiring up to an outlet placed in an old work box behind the TV. Seemed simple enough.

First step, I went to the basement to turn off my breaker. I had 4 or 5 breakers labeled 2nd floor lights and outlets. I flipped them all. The last one killed power to the entire second floor; the others appeared to have no effect. I pulled the front of the panel to verify that there is wiring going to all breakers and there is so I'm not sure where those circuits go. Strange. Most of the wiring coming into the box is modern wiring but there are 3 metal-jacketed wires coming in. I didn't trace what circuit they were attached to.

With the power off I went upstairs to pull the outlet and attach my pigtail. When I examine the outlet I see that there's a 1" piece of copper ground screwed around the green screw and fed into one of the plug in holes on the back of the outlet. It basically goes nowhere. The outlet is housed in a metal box and looks like the wires are screwed to the back. I'm guessing the box is grounded (although I haven't tested ground on the circuit...I'm going to as soon as I get a tester). I realize that this is beyond my expertise and put it back in the wall.

Does anyone know why there would be a piece of copper ground going nowhere?

I have a junction box in my attic with 14-2 going into it that's on the same circuit as the rest of the second floor. I was debating running my outlet from that junction but it seems like there's a lot on that circuit already.

My next steps are to check the grounding in all of my outlets and try to see what circuits are going where from my box. Any advice on how to wire my TV outlet? I'd like to have a dedicated circuit or at least not share a circuit with the entire second floor. I've found one place where I think it will be relatively easy to get from my basement to my attic to pull a new circuit but I'm wanting to use that for low-voltage and running electrical and low-voltage parallel is a no-no, right?

Thanks.

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Old 09-30-2008, 03:52 PM   #2
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Electrical weirdness


You have a 'bootleg" ground at this outlet (and on this circuit) it is potentially dangerous. Time to call in a professional electrician.

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Old 09-30-2008, 09:42 PM   #3
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Here's the thing, we just purchased the house two months ago and during the initial home inspection several open grounds were found on three-prong outlets. Apparently they had to be fixed per code and we were told they were fixed and they passed plugging in the ground detector thingie. I went through the house tonight and pulled several plugs at random and all of them have bootleg grounds. Does anyone know what the law is in a situation like this? I'm guessing it's going to be very difficult and expensive to try to run grounds to these outlets. Any certified electricians in the Arlington, VA area out there?
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Old 09-30-2008, 11:19 PM   #4
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I would recommend consulting an attorney in a case like this.

As far as "ground detector thingies": The $10 receptacle testers that you can buy at your local home center will be fooled by a bootleg ground. A $300 tester (Ideal Suretest) is not 100% foolproof, but will probably spot the phony ground.
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Old 10-01-2008, 08:07 AM   #5
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Someone has connected the ground screw to the neutral connection. This will FOOL those tester thingys and is very dangerous. I agree consult an attorney. You should be able to get the previous owners to pay for the repairs by a qualified electrician of your choice. The one they used was not an elcetrician.
This is a fraud plain and simple.
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Old 10-01-2008, 08:37 AM   #6
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Electrical weirdness


An attorney is on my short list of people to contact, as is an electrician to tell me what my actual situation is. What I want to do before contacting either of those people is to understand and document the situation to the best of my ability. I've already discovered that my panel is labeled incorrectly and I'm starting to fear that I have "wires to nowhere". Unless I have obscure outlets on dedicated 20 amp circuits then it appears that's the case. This weekend I'm going to pull all my outlets and photograph what I find, I'm also going to map my circuits and make sure that I don't have circuits that terminated in hidden junction boxes (although I can't understand why that would be the case. I have to believe that if someone replaced a circuit they would pull the wire out of the panel).

Questions:
In a metal box, is the screw in the back supposed to be a grounding screw or is it just there to hold the wires in place?
In a situation where the box is grounded, is a ground wire supposed to be attached to the green screw or is the outlet just supposed to make contact with the box? Can I test to see if the box is grounded with a multimeter? I'm assuming it would work just the same but want to make sure.
Would an outlet grounded via the metal box give a correct reading via a receptacle tester.
Best question of all, how do I find a good electrician? Picking up the yellow pages doesn't seem like a recipe for success.
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Old 10-01-2008, 09:03 AM   #7
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The grounding screw and cable clamp screw are two separte screws.They are not interchangeable.
Most receptacles need the ground wire attached. They do make self ground receptacles that will work in metal boxes without the wire.
In electrical speak, receptacle is the proper term for the device where you plug something in. Outlet can any device on a circuit including receptacles, lights, fans etc.
A multimeter will show a gound connection but it still might not be a code compliant connection. It can for sure show a NO ground condition.
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Old 10-01-2008, 09:25 AM   #8
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Hi;
I have to agree with Matsukaze about getting an attourney. I'm sure your local laws require a seller to pay for such repairs.

As for the receptacle itself, I would pull new #12 cable to the new location. You can always add onto the circuit later, and having a 20A line will give you the capacity.

Circuits to nowhere: I wouldn't be surprised to find a line leaving the panel to end in a J-box dead-end. Worse yet, the cable could just end in the ceiling somewhere, no box!
If you find nothing shuts off when a breaker is switched off, I would leave it in the OFF position.
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Old 10-01-2008, 10:26 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by KE2KB View Post
Hi;
As for the receptacle itself, I would pull new #12 cable to the new location. You can always add onto the circuit later, and having a 20A line will give you the capacity.
I just realized something. The romex is 14-2, at least in the junction box in the attic, but the circuit is rated at 20A. In looking at the panel last night, almost all the circuits were 20A, not 15A. Ugh, now I'm also going to have to verify what's coming out of the panel is #12 and not #14. I'll bet someone else's first born child that it's #14.

I don't know whether to be happy that I have drop ceiling in the basement so I can better visually inspect everything to be upset because if the giant PITA to take it all down and put it back up. I'm going to need to find something for my wife to do this weekend.

Questing: I know a tick tracer will detect live current in a wire but but will it also detect a working ground in a wire?
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Old 10-01-2008, 01:20 PM   #10
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Now it's really time for an attorney. Did you have an attorney for the sale? consult him about these issues. You might get your whole house rewired at the previous owners expense.
The amount of issues coming up indicate to me the the ENTIRE electrical system needs to be inspected by an electrician. Document everything. Take lots of pictures.
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Old 10-01-2008, 02:12 PM   #11
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Odd that I just fixed a situation where I discovered I had #14 wire on a 20A breaker.
It was my fault, since I wired the circuit from a J-box. At the time I wired the light, I thought the breaker was 15A. But today, when I went to switch off the breaker so that I could add another circuit to the J-box, I found it was 20A. Oops!

The #14 was only going to a light, and the switch that controlled it, but I rewired it so that my entire circuit is #12.
I could have changed the breaker to a 15A more easily, but I wanted to keep the 20A capacity.

It's really starting to sound like your house needs rewiring. I hope you can get a REAL inspector out to take notes, and present them to your attorney.

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Old 10-01-2008, 02:19 PM   #12
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Electrical weirdness


<sigh>

It looks like the easy and correct fix for the house is to downgrade the circuits, where applicable, to 15A and verify that the kitchen and whatnot are on 20A and to replace the 3-prong outlets with the correct 2-prong variety. The problem is, my home loses value without grounded outlets. I know I wouldn't have purchased it in the first place without grounds.

Maybe my memory is wrong but I'll know when I get home tonight. I'll start taking lots of pictures. How much would it cost to rewire a house? The house is about 600 sq feet per level with a partially finished basement and an accessible attic. I know no one can give an accurate estimate but am I looking at $1,000, $5,000, $10,000? What's my ballpark?
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Old 10-01-2008, 03:09 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by fw2007 View Post
I just fixed a situation where I discovered I had #14 wire on a 20A breaker.
I had found out that a circuit that was "dedicated" for a heated bath tub was split to an outlet. It was loaded over 20 amps (if the pump and heater ran, the breaker would trip). The wire to the second outlet was 14 awg.

Also, in a basement room I had severe voltage drop. When observing the wiring, I noticed that the electricians left junction boxes open, and did not secure the ground wire that was crucial for the ground from that room to the main panel.

This was done by a large electrical company that does commercial wiring as well.

I have fixed most of these problems, Ive decided to run 12/2 to that basement room and run the outlets separate from the lights. The bath tub is gfci protected, and has 2 20 amp circuits running to it.
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Old 10-01-2008, 03:13 PM   #14
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[quote=jheavner;167337]replace the 3-prong outlets with the correct 2-prong variety.

When was your house built? You might be able to keep the 3 prongers if the cable is bx. With this cable, you can use the metal shielding as ground.

But I really think you need an inspector out there, and please contact your attorney.

The price really depends on the age, the type of walls, accessibility options, etc.

Last edited by rgsgww; 10-01-2008 at 03:15 PM.
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Old 10-01-2008, 03:30 PM   #15
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I'm going to take pictures after work and I'll post more info then. The house was built in the late 40's but electrical work has been done since. I talked to the neighbor last night to get a history of the house. There have been two owners in the last 20+ years. The first set of owners rented the house out and I can only imagine what kind of ghetto rigging went on during that time. The more recent owners did a lot of remodeling but I don't know if they picked a really poor contractor or tried the DIY route but there have been other problems related to their efforts. From little things like hanging closet shelves with drywall screws into drywall and not studs. I asked him about it and he said that he used drywall screws (and implied that was how it was supposed to work and I was an idiot) to bigger things like putting latex paint on untreated drywall and mudding over cracks in the ceiling and painting without sanding first. I honestly think he would have killed himself if he would have tried to do anything electrical but that doesn't mean he didn't pick up a day laborer that proclaimed to know electrical work.

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