An open ground is when a three-pronged outlet is not connected to the home’s grounding system. This is unsafe because if a fault were to happen, the surge could damage equipment or people rather than routing to the ground.
Open grounds are commonly found during home inspections. As home inspectors in Tampa Bay, FL, we help homeowners and homebuyers find open grounds in their home to protect their investment and their families.
Let’s talk about what grounding is, how an outlet can have an open ground, why it’s unsafe, and how to repair an open ground.
What Is Grounding?
Electrical grounding is a backup pathway for electrical current to flow in case there is a fault. An electrical fault is any abnormal electric current. Therefore, grounding helps abnormal electrical current find safe pathways. If grounding was not in your home, abnormal electrical currents may damage your appliances, home, or people.
Open Ground Outlet Overview
How To Identify An Open Grounded Outlet
You can identify an open ground by using an outlet tester. Or, you can physically remove each outlet from the wall and ensure the ground wire is properly connected to the outlet.
An outlet tester will show a light up code to tell if there is an open ground. In the case above, two right lights indicate that it is correct. One middle light means there is an open ground.
Is An Outlet Required To Be Grounded?
While nobody is going to come arrest you if you have an open ground, having an equipment ground is code enforced through the National Electrical Code. Moreover, your home insurance may get cancelled or you may be unable to sell your home without repairing it.
Local Building Codes
Your local building department will enforce equipment grounds on all outlets when you build something new and pull a permit. For example, if you remodel your kitchen or even build a new home. But, you are not required by law to update open grounded outlets.
When you change insurance policies, the new insurer may require an inspection which inspects for open grounds. Some states, like Florida, require a four-point inspection which may show you have an open ground and lead to the insurance company requiring repairs.
Selling Your Home
When you sell your home, you are likely to have a home inspection. During the home inspection, the inspector will inspect a representative number of outlets and you can count on them to report an open ground if they find one. In most cases, home inspectors flag open grounds as safety items that should be repaired. This effectively will tell the buyer to ask for repairs or concessions in the deal to repair it themselves.
Is An Open Ground Safe?
In short, an open ground is not safe. While the chances of an open ground actually hurting someone is low, it is not zero. Moreover, while it may not hurt you, it could very easily cause a house fire. Just take a look at the statistics below.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), which is a U.S. government organization shared research that says, “In the United States, there are approximately 1000 deaths per year, as a result of electrical injuries. Of these, approximately 400 are due to high-voltage electrical injuries, and lightning causes 50 to 300. There are also at least 30,000 shock incidents per year which are non-fatal.”
Additionally, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), “Each year in the United States, arcing faults are responsible for starting more than 28,000 home fires, killing and injuring hundreds of people, and causing over $700 million in property damage. … Sixty-five percent of home fire deaths result from fires in homes with no working smoke detectors.”
Ultimately, open grounds caused by abnormal faults can easily lead to house fires, electrical shock, and death.
So What Should You Do?
You need to repair an open ground as soon as possible. Let’s take a look on how to do that.
How To Repair An Open Ground
Once an open ground is properly identified, you can begin to repair the open ground. Follow the steps carefully below to repair your open ground. If you are not handy or feel uncertain at any point, you should contact a licensed electrician for help.
Turn off the power to the room/outlet. This is the most important step. Use your outlet tester to be sure power is turned off.
Remove the outlet from the wall. Removing the outlet from the wall will help you see the grounding equipment and attach it to the outlet.
The next steps I have labelled 3a, 3b, and 3c. Follow the step that makes sense for your use case. Grounding was required starting in the 1970s. In homes with electrical wiring older than the 1970s, more than likely, you will not have ground wiring throughout your home.
If your home already is pre-wired with a grounding wire, there should be an available ground wire to connect to the green screw on the outlet. Just like the featured image of this post.
If a grounding wire is not present, sometimes, the grounding is connected via the metal box the wires sit in. This should be verified first with a multimeter. Then, this can be used to ground the outlet.
If a grounding wire or grounding box is not present, a GFCI outlet can be used. GFCI’s can be installed at the first outlet in a circuit and then it will “protect” the rest of the outlets down the circuit. On the other hand, a GFCI breaker can be installed to protect an entire circuit.
A GFCI works by measuring the current on the hot side versus neutral side. If at any point, these currents differ, it would mean electrical current is flowing outside the circuit and the power will mechanically shut-off.
Words of Caution on GFCIs for Grounding
Please understand, GFCI’s do not replace grounding. They simply make an ungrounded outlet safer and are an acceptable alternative.
All outlets must be marked with “No Equipment Ground”.
Be sure to check with your local building code to ensure your area permits this. This may not be approved by insurance companies and your GFCI may fail during a fault.
GFCIs should be tested monthly for operation.
If no ground wire is present, the proper way to ground the outlet is to run a physical grounding wire from every outlet to the electrical panel and to the ground. This can be intensive depending on the home so it is recommended to hire a licensed electrician.
An open ground is when a three-pronged outlet is not connected to an equipment ground. This can damage appliances, your home, and can cause death.
While not always required, open grounds should be repaired to avoid safety issues and property damage. Open grounds are required to be repaired when a local building permitting is filed and can be required by some insurance companies.