Grounding prong broken off in electrical outlet

In my house, none of the outlets are grounded, although they are all three prong. I discovered an outlet which appears to have a grounding prong broken off in it. I can't tell for sure. All I know is I can't plug in any three-prong plug.
Is it safe to try to just yank the prong out with pliers?
Or should I just install one of those plug adapters, which convert 3-prong to 2-prong??
The problem is, there is no way for me to remove the box, since I can never be certain if I have turned off power to the outlet, even if I shut off the circuit. The problem is a voltage detector cannot be plugged into the outlet to confirm no power, since it is 3-prong. Could I just use a multimeter instead to detect voltage? Or use a circuit finder to verify that both outlets go to the same circuit? I can't shut off the entire house either, since some of my circuits might run through my neighbor's circuits, so I would have to shut off his power too.
Thanks for any help.
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A voltage meter could certainly tell you if there's power to the outlet or not. There are also inexpensive probes that are available that can tell if a circuit is live or not just by holding the probe near it (test the probe on a known live circuit before testing the subject circuit). Once you've verified that power to the box is off, then you have the option of trying to pull out the ground prong or replace the outlet.
Why aren't the outlets grounded? Older wiring?
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Ok, thanks. Makes sense. Do I need to insert both probes of the multi-meter into the outlet, or just one, with the other grounded somewhere?

Yeah, the house was built in the 1800's. Wiring is very very old. It is a three-story victorian type. Would be bvery hard to ground all the outlets and fixtures.
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always plug in a two wire plug device such as a lamp. The ground prong normally carries no current. If you were sure it is actually the ground plug, you could just pull out the broken piece with some insulated pliers. If you have a multimeter or one of the neon bulb circuit testers with leads you can also use that to verify you have the outlet circuit turned off at the fuse/breaker panel.
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Oh, duh!! Never though of that. :)
The ground prong

Yeah, except I want to be sure that each outlet in the box is on the same circuit. So the only way to do this would be to shut off every circuit in the sub-panel.
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If you have two people, you can have one at the fusebox and one by the outlet, watching the lamp. Or with one person, you could use a radio set loud enough to hear it at the fuse box. Then you can shut off the circuits one at a time until you find the right one.
This sort of efficiency only matters because of digital clocks and cheap vcr's and tv's that might forget the time or other settings if you disconnecdt them even for a few seconds. (though most appliances use a back up 9 volt battery or a capacitor or non-volatile memory so they don't forget things in less than what, 10 minutes, a half hour?)
Or, you could turn on all the lights and something in every receptacle, and tour the house each time after a cb is switched off, making notes about what has been disconnnected. Make a detailed list and put it in the fuse box. Laminate it maybe so it will last for another 100 years.
Back to hunting down the circuit for every light and receptacle: You can turn the circuit breaker or fuse back on after you find what it dsconnects. But when you find that a lamp has gone off, plug the lamp into the other half of the receptacle to make sure it has gone off too. I don't think it was very common to split receptacles, except maybe if one is wired through a wall switch and the other half isn't. Especially here because they didn't play such clever games in the 1800's and when the house was rewired, I doubt anyone would go to the ttrouble of running two lines to the same receptacle.
Furthermore, you don't really have to know about every receptacle. You'll probably never have to repair any of them, and if you do, you can test then to make sure both halves are disconnected.
BTW, my first house had one fuse for ceiling fixtures in more than one room,, and another fuse for receptacles in more than one room. This has the big advantage that if you blow the fuse with a lamp, you still have the ceiling fixture to see with, and vice versa. But the house was built that way. I wouldn't expect a house built without electricity (yours?) to be this well done. Electricians were probably very expensive when this house was wired.
Also, few houses had 3-prong outlets until what, 40 years ago. People used electricity for almost 100 years before then and mostly without trouble. The ground plug is only a secondary safety backup for all, iiuc, appliances.
IIUC, it only helps when a wire inside short to a metal case that the person using the appliance touches. It's much more common for a wire to break than to short. Or maybe motor windings short, but they short from one side of the plug to the other, and they blow the fuse.
Most home appliances don't have metal cases in the first place, except some space heaters and some kitchen things, like toasters. Don't most of these things still come with 2-prong plugs? If so, a 3-prong outlet does you no good.
Home power tools used to have 3-prong plugs and metal cases, but now almost all have plastcic cases (and therefore have 2-prong plugs.)
Your refrigerator, washing machine, and I forget but probably the dishwasher have 3-prong plugs. Take care of those first.
And room air conditioners.
Check your house and see what else has them. If something has a two-prong plug, a three-prong receptacle gives no added protection, grounded or not.
How do you know they're not grounded. If you have BX cable, with the coiled metal sheath, that is probably the ground.
You have a tenant who rewired part of your house!! This reminds me of the time a roommate borrowed my bicycle (I'd told him he could borrow the older one) and readjusted my front wheel bearing, and didn't tell me. I didn't find out until I had a flat 10 miles from home and when I patched the tube I noticed it was adjusted WRONG. I was really mad at him. Not only shouldn't he have done it at all, he should have notified me immediately if he did, and he should have done it right. The jackass thought he knew more about bicycles than I did.
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KOA wrote:

You can try, use insulated pliers

Its a temporary fix, but you could change the outlet to a GFI as a permanant solution. Most jurisdictions allow this to replace ungrounded outlets so you are protected.

Just plug in a 2 prong device like a radio.
Could I just use a multimeter

In all likelyhood, both outlets are fed from the same breaker, but you can check to be sure
.. I can't shut off the entire house either,

You do not need to shut off the entire house. Just find the right breaker to that outlet. Worst case scenario, if you had to shut off the entire house, it is still safer. How is it that your neighbors power is shared with yours?
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Thanks Mike for the tips. The tenant who lives in the second floor apartment was using the third floor apartment, where the problem outlet is, to let his friend live there. He wanted to supply him with free electricity, so he altered the third floor electrical system to run off of his, but only rewired some of the circuits. He didn't want to pay the $10 fee to have the third floor electricity account changed to his name, and he didn't want to pay the extra minimal use electricity for devices which were not being used, such as the range.
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The landlord brought in an electrician to put in a new light switch for me on the third floor, but he was so confused by where the power to the third floor came from, he couldn't help me. The problem is he would have to access the second floor apartment to see how the wires run and/or shut off his service panel to do the wiring, but the landlord does not have a key to the second floor apartment, and won't give her one. And he is never home in the day, or sleeping.
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So you are paying for this guy's electricity?
Beachcomber
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If nothing else just buy one of those adapers that convert the old two prong to three prong.
http://www.cleansweepsupply.com/pages/item-fel99480.html
Should be able to get them at Lowes or HD.
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I'd evict him for this, for rewiring without permission.. And if I wanted to look at it, I'd drill out the lock (see long thread about getting access to a tenant's property) , because the mere fact that it hasn't started a fire yet, it doesn't mean it won't later today.
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SNIPS
Assuming that your outlet is the standard duplex outlet (two pluggy in thingies in the one box) you can check the one that does not havre the prong stuck in it. Even if against all odds you have he onl nn duplex socet in the world, you can still check power status easily in at least three ways with out any special tools.
1. Cut main breaker. Kills power towhole house. Pull grounding prong with needle nose pliers. Energize main breaker.
2. Plug a radio or TV, turned up to the loudest sound you can, into the socket. US TVs and radios tend to be 100 % two wire devices. Shut off indvidual circuit breakers one at a time, If radio or TV does not go off, re energize that circuit. Proceed breaker by breaker until you ind the one that shuts down the radio or TV, When you find the individual breaker that shuts off the radio or TV, you are home free. Pull the grounding prong with needle nose pliers.
3. Use a small lamp in place of radio / tv. Test circuit by circuit until youfind lamp shut off. Proceed as above. The lamp process works best with a helper so that ypu dont have to walk back to the room from whereever the panel is located to check lamp status. If you have several very long two wire extension cords, you can run an extension cord line from the socket over to wherever the panel is, or as close as you can get, and lug the lamp in there. It cuts down on the walking back and forth. Obviously you can't use 3 wire estension cords as you have a prong stuck in the socket.
And no. it is not saf to just grab the broken prong and pull it without first killing the power.
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KOA wrote:

If all those outlets don't have stickers on them bearing the warning "Ground not connected", you may not be in code compliance.
For all you know, someone may have deliberately shoved something in their to deter someone else thinking it really was a grounded receptical.
FWIW, as long as you're not standing in a puddle of water or touching something which really is grounded at the same time you go to do the "extraction", I can't think of any reason it wouldn't be safe to pull that broken off pin out with pliers.
HTH,
Jeff
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