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Old 01-01-2013, 06:14 PM   #1
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GFCI vs Grounding a two wire house


I have two issues I'm curious about.

We just bought a house that was built in 1968 with a two-wire electrical system. A previous owner had replaced maybe half of the outlets with three prong outlets, but didn't ground them. In a couple places, like the kitchen and bathroom, they've added an additional wire that is tied into the main ground in the breaker box.

Here's issue #1. We requested that all the ungrounded three prong outlets be connected to ground as part of our repair agreement. The seller agreed, and had a "master electrician" perform the work. When we showed up at the walkthrough, all of the plugs had been replaced with three prong. I didn't have a chance to test them before closing and assumed the work had been done correctly. This week I finally had a chance to start mapping my circuits and I noticed that everything is still ungrounded (using an outlet tester). What he did was add a GFCI outlet (still ungrounded) to each circuit. I've found some information online that says this is an easy solution for providing additional safety, but it still leaves me without an equipment ground. I'm a little pissed right now, but before I start making calls, do any of you have any experience with this technique? Is it up to code on any level, or is it a cheap/lazy hack? FWIW, I checked my town's website and regrounding requires a permit, but changing outlets does not. I wonder if he did the job this way just to fly under the radar.

I'm not sure how I'm going to pursue this yet, since I signed the document at closing saying the repairs were complete. But I want to make sure I know what's going on before I get too worked up.

And issue #2. Another repair that we had done was to upgrade the house from 100A to 200A service. The same guy did the work, but the only complaint I have there is that none of the circuits were labeled. No big deal, but this is why I'm mapping my circuits. I used a Klein Tools ET300 Digital Circuit Breaker Finder, and came across an interesting problem. The "bathroom" circuit (position #9 in the photo) has a GFCI breaker. However the Circuit Breaker Finder beeps it out at position #5. 5 is a separate but adjacent (in the house) circuit. The outlets on #5 also beep out to 5. I verified each circuit is separate by flipping the switch. So according to this instrument, I have two circuits that beep to the same breaker, and nothing beeps on the GFCI. Is this a common error with this type of instrument, or is there something weird going on with my wiring?

GFCI vs Grounding a two wire house-electrical.jpg

Thanks for your help. I am a first time home owner, and I'm having a blast figuring all this stuff out.

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Old 01-01-2013, 06:26 PM   #2
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GFCI vs Grounding a two wire house


Adding GFI protection and switching to 3 prong receptacles is a code acceptable method to allow the 3 prong on an ungrounded wiring method. It does not provide a ground. The receptacles should have been labeled "No Equipment Ground".

The directory not identifying the circuits is a code violation.

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Old 01-01-2013, 07:08 PM   #3
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GFCI vs Grounding a two wire house


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Originally Posted by Joeboo25 View Post
I have two issues I'm curious about.

We just bought a house that was built in 1968 with a two-wire electrical system. A previous owner had replaced maybe half of the outlets with three prong outlets, but didn't ground them. In a couple places, like the kitchen and bathroom, they've added an additional wire that is tied into the main ground in the breaker box.

Here's issue #1. We requested that all the ungrounded three prong outlets be connected to ground as part of our repair agreement. The seller agreed, and had a "master electrician" perform the work. When we showed up at the walkthrough, all of the plugs had been replaced with three prong. I didn't have a chance to test them before closing and assumed the work had been done correctly. This week I finally had a chance to start mapping my circuits and I noticed that everything is still ungrounded (using an outlet tester). What he did was add a GFCI outlet (still ungrounded) to each circuit. I've found some information online that says this is an easy solution for providing additional safety, but it still leaves me without an equipment ground. I'm a little pissed right now, but before I start making calls, do any of you have any experience with this technique? Is it up to code on any level, or is it a cheap/lazy hack? FWIW, I checked my town's website and regrounding requires a permit, but changing outlets does not. I wonder if he did the job this way just to fly under the radar.

I'm not sure how I'm going to pursue this yet, since I signed the document at closing saying the repairs were complete. But I want to make sure I know what's going on before I get too worked up.

And issue #2. Another repair that we had done was to upgrade the house from 100A to 200A service. The same guy did the work, but the only complaint I have there is that none of the circuits were labeled. No big deal, but this is why I'm mapping my circuits. I used a Klein Tools ET300 Digital Circuit Breaker Finder, and came across an interesting problem. The "bathroom" circuit (position #9 in the photo) has a GFCI breaker. However the Circuit Breaker Finder beeps it out at position #5. 5 is a separate but adjacent (in the house) circuit. The outlets on #5 also beep out to 5. I verified each circuit is separate by flipping the switch. So according to this instrument, I have two circuits that beep to the same breaker, and nothing beeps on the GFCI. Is this a common error with this type of instrument, or is there something weird going on with my wiring?

Thanks for your help. I am a first time home owner, and I'm having a blast figuring all this stuff out.
IMO you got what you paid for. You had this work done as a condition to buy the house. Of course it is going to get done as cheaply as possible. And to be honest the 200A UPGRADE was NOT a repair, but just that, a free upgrade.
So you got a simple fix and a FREE 200A upgrade out of the deal. I'd say you are ahead of the game.

The GFI load side for non-grounding receptacles is the easiest and generally the most used fix for this situation. Running new wires, or even just a ground wire, is NOT a reasonable request IMO. That is basically a complete re-wire job.
I must say, I find it odd that a 1968 home is wired without a ground. I bet the wiring method in place does have a ground.
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Old 01-01-2013, 07:28 PM   #4
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GFCI vs Grounding a two wire house


Thanks for the info.

BTW, just to clarify. I paid for the upgrade to 200A. I just decided to use the electrician that was already doing work in the house.
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Old 01-01-2013, 07:40 PM   #5
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I'd be curious to see a picture of this whole panel.

My first thought is that there is no way a permit was pulled for the work requested. No labeling and tandems installed, something is not right. There should be no need for tandems on a 100 to 200A upgrade.
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Old 01-01-2013, 08:00 PM   #6
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Ask, and ye shall receive...

Here is the whole box (minus the front panel):

GFCI vs Grounding a two wire house-electrical2.jpg

...and the cables coming in the top. The newer wires (romex?) on the left and far right go to the basement circuits, and are grounded. The house circuits are the silvery braid on the right (Hatfield Hatflex 14/2 NM). I don't think it's a metallic sheath.

GFCI vs Grounding a two wire house-electrical3.jpg

I can provide more detail in any particular area too. These images are shrunk down pretty far per the forum rules.

Last edited by Joeboo25; 01-01-2013 at 08:02 PM. Reason: more info
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Old 01-01-2013, 08:30 PM   #7
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GFCI vs Grounding a two wire house


Interesting...I have never seen a 200A panel with so few spaces and IMO, this is not a new panel. I'm not saying its used per se, but I don't think this was purchased within the last 5 years (possibly 10).

I see some minor issues, such as white conductors used as hots but not re identified and the part about no labels, but other than that, I really don't see much to be concerned with.

I also see grounded branch circuits. What prompted you to request for the outlets to be grounded?
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Old 01-01-2013, 09:12 PM   #8
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This is fascinating. Thanks.

The box is a Murray LC2040B1200, and there's a 2010 copyright sticker on the door. But maybe it's an older design or something. I really thought I would get more expansion room too, my pictures don't even show the 6 inches of dead space below the main switch.

The white wires...

The first one on the left from the top is a 60A double pole for the heat pump, the second one on the left is two single pole 30A breakers with a clip between them for the heat pump outdoor unit. The top right is a 30A double pole for the water heater, and the lower right is that GCFI I was talking about.

The grounded branches are all basement circuits. The main living area is ungrounded except for the outlets next to sinks which have a separate ground wire installed. Mainly I'm concerned for my electronics, appliances and anything else I plug into a surge protector. I also didn't like having that many three prong outlets installed with improper wiring.
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Old 01-01-2013, 09:21 PM   #9
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GFCI vs Grounding a two wire house


I saw a black wire hooked to the neutral buss and I don't like the neutral wires hooked to the ground buss.
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Old 01-01-2013, 09:37 PM   #10
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and I don't like the neutral wires hooked to the ground buss.
As long as this is the service panel it does not matter. If there is a disconnect before this panel it would matter.
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Last edited by Jim Port; 01-01-2013 at 09:57 PM. Reason: corrected quote for clarity
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Old 01-01-2013, 09:39 PM   #11
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GFCI vs Grounding a two wire house


Here's a link to the higher resolution photos. If you click on the little gear in the top right corner, you can see the full sized image.

http://imgur.com/a/4vC8T
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Old 01-01-2013, 09:41 PM   #12
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I apologize for the bad information on the panel's age. It looked to be an old Sieman's panel. I would check into if a permit was pulled for the service upgrade.
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Old 01-01-2013, 09:45 PM   #13
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I didn't say it wasn't to code.Just stated I didn't like it. Keep the neutrals where they were designed and the grounds go to the added ground buss.
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Old 01-01-2013, 09:53 PM   #14
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I apologize for the bad information on the panel's age. It looked to be an old Sieman's panel. I would check into if a permit was pulled for the service upgrade.
Actually you might not be that far off. I did a quick google search and I think Siemens owns Murray. Maybe they dumped their old designs under a different brand name.
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Old 01-01-2013, 10:03 PM   #15
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I didn't say it wasn't to code.Just stated I didn't like it. Keep the neutrals where they were designed and the grounds go to the added ground buss.
A ground bar does not need to be added to a service panel.

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