Converting to Three-Prong Outlets
LESLIE: Hopefully we’ll keep Robin in Nevada from having a hair-raising situation with electricity. What’s going on? How can we help?
ROBIN: My house that I live in was built in 1961.
ROBIN: And with the exception of the major appliances – the washer, dryer, the refrigerator, et cetera – we don’t have any three-prong plugs. And they’re getting old and we wanted to replace the two-hole prongs with three-hole ones. And I didn’t know – is that something that an individual can do on a fairly easy basis or do I need to get a contractor in electricity or something?
TOM: Well, I think you’re going to need an electrician for this, Robin, because adding that third prong to the outlet doesn’t mean that it’s safe. That third prong is for a ground. Unless there’s a ground wire installed it’s not going to work properly.
LESLIE: It won’t actually do anything.
TOM: Yeah. Now, an electrician could, in an area where you’re trying to create a ground situation where it’s going to be safer, what they can do is they can replace the two-prong outlets with a three-prong ground fault outlet and if it’s wired correctly it won’t be grounded but it’ll be ground fault protected. And what that means is if you plug in, say, a bad light or a bad appliance or something that’s going to short, rather than you get that shock it’ll actually turn off at the outlet itself. The outlet has a built-in breaker. An electrician would know how to wire that to make that work. But if you truly wanted a grounded system you’re going to have to have a three-wire system. Right now you probably have a two-wire system where the wiring that goes through the house only has a hot and a neutral and you need a hot, a neutral and a ground. With only a two-wire system it’s grounded through the neutral but you can’t hook up a three-prong outlet to that and have it work properly.
ROBIN: OK, so – and is that, would you think – we’re like 1,600 square feet. Is this like a huge monetary thing that I’m going to be doing to …
TOM: Let me ask you this question. Is – you have a ranch, a colonial? What’s the structure of the house like?
ROBIN: It’s a one-story – probably ranch, I guess. We’re not really …
TOM: Finished basement?
ROBIN: No basement.
TOM: No basement? So it’s a – is there a crawlspace?
TOM: OK. So if you can get access under the floor that makes it a lot easier to run new wires. So I would suggest that you meet with an electrician and talk about what rooms it makes sense to update and what rooms it may not make sense. Some areas of the house are going to be easier to get to than others. And by the way, that two-prong outlet, as long as it’s used properly, is not necessarily unsafe.
ROBIN: OK. Well thank you very much.
TOM: You’re welcome. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.