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smoke-wagon 06-24-2009 11:27 PM

home grounding problem
hello, i am a new member. my fiancee and i recently purchased our first home in south philadelphia, we are both very excited but being an 88yr old home it had some problems. the seller and i took care of most of them but there is one left, the electric sockets on the 2nd floor will not ground, but the 1st floor is fine. i am not an electrician at all but upon closer inspection by myself and a contractor buddy we noticed 2 wires, 1 black and one red coming from the right side of the breaker box. the black wire is fastened to a pipe but the red wire is hanging loose and what used to be a piece to fasten it is rotted off the end. we were thinking the black wire is the ground for the first floor and the red is the ground for the second floor, would this be correct?
i haven't had a chance to hire a certified residential electrician come to inspect the problem yet so i figured i'd hop on here and see if anyone had any ideas on the cause/remedy or the price of an electrician fixing the problem? thanks!
i can also take picures if that would help.

Stubbie 06-25-2009 12:13 AM

Congradulations on your first home and yes 88 yr. old homes generally have a few issues.
And welcome to this forum we are here to help any DIYer who requests assistance.

First lets erase a few misconceptions you have. There is no such thing as a ground for the first floor and a ground for the second floor and any wires connected to metal pipes or such have nothing to do with whether sockets (receptacles) work or not. So forget the red a black wires for the moment they have nothing to do with your problem.
Lets start with the simplest. You say you have a breaker box so I'm guessing somewhere along the line a fuse box was replaced during a wiring upgrade to more modern methods.

In any event no breakers are tripped or possibly no fuses are blown?? If you have breakers move them fully off then back on. You have probably already been through this but have to ask.

When you say the sockets on the second floor won't ground what do you mean by that? Are you saying that nothing works that is plugged into them?

How have you tested the receptacles to determine if power is present?

smoke-wagon 06-25-2009 12:36 AM

thanks for the welcome and your knowlege. We determined the problem at the time of inspction and I checked again today with the same tool. It's the one that plugs in and only the center light is lit. A friend of mine replaced a gfci receptacle and it doesn't work because the electricity isn't grounded. I didn't go through settlement yet on the house and the current owner fixed $1250 in damage and is giving us a nice deal so I was hoping to be able to afford an electrician on my own.

PaliBob 06-25-2009 03:45 AM


Originally Posted by smoke-wagon (Post 292681)
.... replaced a gfci receptacle and it doesn't work because the electricity isn't grounded......

  1. A GFCI does NOT need a Ground to work properly
  2. GFCI's are designed to work whether or not the the GFCI is grounded
  3. The GFCI Test button will validate the GFCI operation
  4. An external Plug-In Tester that shows "Open Ground" cannot Test GFCI Operation
It seems like a contradiction but the GFCI 'Test' button on a plug-in Tester only Tests the GFCI when the GFCI is Grounded but by code the GFCI by itself does NOT need to be Grounded.

The 'Test' button on a plug-in Tester connects a ~18K bleed resistor between AC and Ground to simulate a Ground Fault current >5mA. With no ground there is no test current.
Anything that is Grounded will still trip the GFCI at a Fault current >5mA.

The 'Test' button on the GFCI connects a bleed resistor that bypasses the GFCI current sensor and thus by simulating a fault current tests the GFCI operation.

ScottR 06-25-2009 11:45 AM

If I'm reading this correctly, my guess would be that you do not have wiring with a ground on the second floor. In other words, only 2 wires: A hot and a neutral, but no separate grounding wire.

Most likely someone replaced the receptacles up there with 3-pin grounded receptacles.

Best way to tell if this is the case is to remove one of the 2nd floor receptacles from the wall that does not show a ground using the tester, and see what is connected to it. If there is no bare or green wire in the box, then it's likely that the wiring has no ground. (BX cable has a metal sheath which could provide a ground path, but is not really meant to do so).

A picture of the connections to the receptacle and the inside of the box would also be helpful..

Edit: Before you pull out the receptacle, turn the power to that circuit OFF. :yes:

Stubbie 06-25-2009 11:58 AM

Ok I think I understand what your issue is with the receptacles. The center light on a receptacle tester is usually the open ground indicator. In reality all 88 year old homes with original wiring would show open ground. But an open ground will not cause anything plugged into the outlet to not work. Older wiring methods only used two wires and a 3rd grounding wire was not present. The two wires used were a power wire (hot) and a grounded leg (sometimes called the neutral).
It seems logical that your "sockets" have 3 prong grounding type receptacles installed in them. I say this because you are able to plug a 3 prong receptacle tester into them unless your using some kind of adapter. At any rate having no ground present is not a big deal and there are some code compliant alternatives if you just have to have an equipment ground available at a receptacle. There are also some code solutions for installing 3 prong grounding type receptacles on house wiring that does not have a ground wire.

That said it is possible you have a ground but it is faulty. So could you take a picture of a electrical box with the receptacle pulled out so we can see inside?

Remember though an open ground has no effect on whether a receptacle works or not. Equipment ground is for human safety to facilitate a breaker tripping.... if for example.... a hot wire were to touch the metal of a receptacle box.

If it turns out there is no equipment ground... then the only way to get grounding is to rewire or add a grounding wire to the existing wiring or run a ground wire to those outlets you wish to be grounding type.

Not having equipment ground is not a deal breaker and is very common. It would be more important to me to be sure the old wiring such as knob and tube is in good shape and not deteriorated to the point of likely failure.

You will find that most things you plug in these days only have two prongs on the plug so a 3 prong grounding type receptacle isn't necessary for the proper operation of the appliance plugged into the receptacle. In those places where you are likely to need a 3 prong receptacle there are code compliant alternatives to allow you to install a 3 prong receptacle even if no ground is present. We can tell you what those are if you like.

It is however a code violation to have regular 3 prong grounding type receptacles installed in boxes when no equipment ground is available....unless it is a gfci or gfci protected.

So are you simply wanting to know if it is required or a must have thing for the receptacles to show a good ground??

Very simply for the receptacles to show a good ground they must have a conductive path (equipment ground wire) connected to them or the metal box they are installed in and that wire must go all the way back to the breaker panel grounding bar unbroken. There are other means to provide equipment ground such as metal conduit but we have to know what wiring method the upstairs receptacles are using...... cables... or... wires inside a metal conduit.

You said a gfci didn't work that a friend installed, if by.. didn't work.. you mean an appliance doesn't work when plugged into it this is not a grounding issue. Either it was miswired or the hot wire is deenergized or the grounded leg is broken open.

smoke-wagon 06-25-2009 03:02 PM

thanks everyone for your thoughts and advice. i brought an electrician today and he said everything is fine and in working order. i'm not sure if the fha appraiser/inspector will approve the house but if not i have the guy's # and he said he can ground each individual receptacle with a screw or something maybe? but he did assure me the electricity is safe and in working order.

Leah Frances 06-25-2009 03:07 PM

Sorry to be the one to say it, but Safe and in working order doesn't mean that it is grounded.

My insurance company thinks my K&T is in 'safe and working order' and it is not grounded. If you didn't ask him if a ground was correctly present or he didn't specifically say, "You have a ground and it is working." then you need to call him up tonight and ask.

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