Replace an Electrical Outlet
LESLIE: We’ve got Rich in Colorado on the line who could have a potential hair-raising situation with some old wiring. Tell us about it.
RICH: I had to replace an electrical outlet and when I pulled the old one out I’ve got just old two-wire wiring in the house instead of three.
RICH: And I didn’t know how serious a problem this could be in the future and at the hardware store all you can really find are the three-prong outlets and a lot of stuff that I have, you know, has three prongs and I was concerned about the two-prong outlet versus the three-prong outlet and if that old two-wire wiring needed to be replaced.
TOM: Well, with two-wire system, the ground is basically through the neutral and you can install a three-prong into it but it has to be done correctly so that you do not create the illusion of ground where it doesn’t exist. It’s really not a do-it-yourself project.
You know, there are a couple of things that could be done. For example, you could install a ground-fault circuit interrupter into a two-wire system so that it turns the circuit off. It doesn’t technically ground it but it turns it off if there’s a diversion of current to ground. But it’s not a do-it-yourself project. It’s also possible to run a third wire into some selected circuits and have that be the solution to the problem as well. It’s an antiquated system. It’s still safe as long as it’s installed and maintained properly, but it’s a good question and one that many people deal with and the answer is you can live with it but you only want to modify it if you do it correctly.