No grounds in my 1950 house

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I'm sure this question comes up often, but I have a bit of twist on it.
My house was built in 1950. I purchased it in 1971.
When I looked at the wiring, I knew nothing of electrial boxes and actually didn't even think to ask where it was. I was satisfied though, because I noticed that all the power recepticals were of the three-prong type, which indicated to me a grounded system.
It wasn't until a couple of years later, when painting and taking off the face plate, did I discover that the wiring was only two conductor Romax, with the two prong sockets removed and the three prong, with the ground installed.--but it the ground went nowhere. Every outlet, is fake as far as grounding goes. I was/am very unhappy about this.
Financially, I can't afford to rewire the house, although it desperately needs it. Since finding the "no ground" ground, I've found copper wire, spliced to aliminum, no consistent color scheme for hot, neutral. The circuit breaker panel appears to have been hacked into the wall, which is on the stairs and hidden behind the stairway door when it is opened. The panel is completely exposed. EMF fields are strong. I can't tell the amps of the breakers, but I know if I run the microwave and an electric mixer at the same time in the kitchen, withing five minutes, the breker trips. There is no Master Disconnect. When the refridgerator kicks on or the washing machine is turned on (they are on different breakers) the house lights flicker, some of the electrical outlets in the basement are in the ceiling (I don't think they could get a box into the concret foundation. In the upstairs, there are a few recepticals on interior walls which have been plastered in--no attention to whether there was a stud anywhere. Along the perimeter walls, which are made of plaster, over metal lathe, over cinder block and an outside brick veneer, evidently, holes were cut into the cinder block for the outlet box and the box and wire, plastered into the wall. Oh, the downstairs wiring, which is in the ceiling, when I did work there, saw that the wiring is stapled to the joists--so fishing something through would be very difficult with staples holding the wiring in place.
1st question is what would you do? --I know, move out; burn the house down, blow it up, take a very large backhoe to it and start over.
How this passed code, even back in 1950, is beyond me. Except people around here said that the contractor and building inspector had a "special" relationship.
Is there anyway at all to ground anything, without spending a fortune.
Can something be done with GFP that would help?
I have tools that I need to use outside. They are not double insulated. The warning is written over and over, do not use a ground lifter--this equipment MUST be attached to a properly grounded outlet.
Could I for the outside outlets, drive a copper rod into the ground, attach a thick copper braid (strap) to it and attach that to the metal of the box that the socket is in (or to the box then from there use 10 AWG to the Ground of the socket) and have a good, workable, safe ground?
Years ago, I used to be an amateur radio operator. To ground my equipment, I drove a 10' copper rod into the ground, attached a 1" wide copper Strap, brought that into the room, attached it to a heavy metal box and ran ground wires from that to my equipent --instead of trying to ground the electrical boxes, I grounded the equipment.
This actually worked. When lightining struck my antenna, all it did was come down the heavy coax, jump the gap of a lightining arrestor that led directly to the ground and the strikes never got to my equipment --except for the one time when a storm was coming, I had unhooked the antenna and was preparing to put it directly to ground--ground cable in left hand, antenna coax in right and WHAM! a lightning strike that knocked me across the room. (Boy was that fun).
So, would some kind of copper grounding rod and strap to an outside metal box work. And as I mentioned would I gain anything by putting in GPFs, although there would be no ground to them?
--I know, I know. It's my fault for not having an electrician inspect the house before I bought it, but I was young, trusting, and saw the three prong outlets.
Any helpfull ideas will be appreciated and if you want to laugh at me, go ahead, I deserve it--but now, what can we do to fix it?
Thanks, Bob
that leaves me open to all kinds of wise-cracks, but take it seriously. I don't have the money to tear out the ceiling, basement walls, upstairs cinder block and stucco walls, rip out all the wiring and have someone do it right.
. It is completely exposed at all
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wrote:

I would calmly and carefully begin to fix each code violation as time and finances permitted. After all, you've been living there for over 30 years without getting fried or burning down the house so the hazard is obviously not an immediate one, especially now that you know the potential hazards of using those outdoor tools.
I don't think grounded outlets were even available back in 1950, so their improper installation was probably done by a subsequent owner or not so good do-it-yourselfer... What is odd is that I've never seen Romex used in houses back in 1950, metal covered BX was the standard then. I wonder if the whole house was rewired by some do-it-yourselfer at a later date. I'd be curious and check to see if there is a date code on that Romex - there often is.
Ground fault outlets will give you much of the protection of a grounded outlet without the rewiring costs. They will give you a measure of safety while using those outdoor power tools.
BTW, I'm also an amateur radio operator. I directly gound my antenna system with a heavy ceramic knife switch to outside ground rods during lightning conditions using #2 gauge wire less than 8 ft long. Of course, nothing gives absolute protection from a direct lightning strike... I'm mainly interested in getting an excellent RF gound.
Doug
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I lived in a house built in 1947, my father purchased it in 1950, and the wiring was done with old style Romex. The black tar coated cable with the outer braid over 2 kraft paper wrapped insulated wires with no ground. Non-metallic cable was made and used back then.
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EXT wrote:

Yes, I can attest to that. In 1953, there were two kinds of Romex on the market: one had a white, chalky outer cover with paper wrapped TW conductors, and the other had a kind of silver black coating that flaked off when installing it. The flaky stuff would get into your skin. Both types, at that time, were ungrounded Romex, and where there was an outlet near a water pipe, or other such plumbing, or grounded surface, a separate ground wire, from a spool of #14 bare wire, was installed from the outlet box to the nearest cold water pipe and fastened to a strap around the pipe. Maybe you could find a spool of such bare wire and go ahead and run some grounds to your outlets.
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market: one had a white,

kind of silver black

into your skin. Both types,

water pipe, or other such

bare wire, was installed

around the pipe. Maybe

to your outlets.
I would not count on such a "make shift" group for protection against shock. Rather I would have a GFCI on each outlet or each circuit. A water pipe ground would be OK for a ground for a radio receiver but for a "safety" ground it's not "gud enuf." If you have a short you could end up with "hot" water pipes and the break or fuse still letting power through.
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John Gilmer wrote:

Yes, I wouldn't recommend fastening the modern grounds to a water pipe nearby for the reason you have mentioned. Somewhere down the line, somebody just might do some plumbing remodeling and put in some plastic pipe instead, and the "ground" would, therefore, be lost. I was just recalling what was done in the 50's. I would still recommend finding a spool of bare ground wire and fishing it into the walls to the metal outlet boxes and then fastening the ends to a mainliner ground and returning this to the panel for a good system ground. This way the original wiring wouldn't have to be replaced. And if some connections were found to be aluminum to copper, they should have the NO-OX compound put on them and then connected together.
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nearby for the reason you

plumbing remodeling and put in

was just recalling what

ground wire and fishing it

mainliner ground and

Unless there is extensive remodeling, the wiring just doesn't have to be replaced. The GFCI will cover you. Some folks still use old "knob and tube" wiring. So long as you don't disturb it, it's perfectly OK except for the lack of ground and the GFCI "covers" that.

have the

I think Al wire started to be used well after ground wires in cable were routine. The only potential problem is when someone used Al wire in an "upgrade" and then joined it to the old wiring.
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Thank you everyone.
Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you. My computer tried to commit computercide and I had to do some fancy stuff to get it going,recover deleted files from the HDD, reset the MBR, restore operating systems, fix all kinds of things--as well as rake the lawn, take a bath, fight my ashtma, try to remember where I posted this question.
Your replies are all good. Every one. I really appreciate your help. Thank you.
I would really like to put a real ground to each box, but I just don't see how I can do it.
As I mentioned, some of the boxes are plastered into the masonary walls--can't very well fish anything to those; and other boxes are connected by the --old Silver colored, flaxy, Romex that EXT and others spoke of. As far as I can tell it has no shielding, nothing that could be used as a ground. And to try to fish a ground over it, how do I do that when the Romex is stapled to the floor joists? --I was able to look one time and wires were running in all directions, crossing, it looked like a melt down and fire, just ready to happen.
The house indeed was rewired, I think about 1957 and it is even for me, to look at, a very poor job. Alluminum connected to copper. Only one circuit panel. The breakers are 20 amp but something must be wrong. Light's dimming/flicker when dryer or washing machine goes on. There is a kitchen box (which is wired through palster) that is on a 20 am circuit. The only other things on the run are an 80 wt. florescent light w ballast and an incadescent light over a table that is on a dimmer. When those things are on, plus an electric mixer and microwave plugged in and running, the breaker trips withing 10 minutes or so. I don't think it shoud do this. Plus, the cords to the appliances are hot and the plugs are very warm. When I looked at the inside of the box, I saw only two wires coming in, no ground, so it really should have a two prong cover, instead someone put on a three prong which does nothing. Maybe I am wrong though and the ground is hidden, such that I can't see it. I'll go ahead and buy the tool for checking if a circuit is grounded, as was mentioned in the replies. What is the name of the ground checker?
Back to the panel. I would like to replace it with a new one and at least get a ground to that. I won't be able to do any grounding, but at least it's a start. I don't want to have to do like the people did who just bought a house across the steet: tear it down and start over, because to bring it up to code would cost more than building a new house from scratch.
I would like to have an electrician install the panel or I can DIY it if the electrician puts in a master shut off, ahead of the panel. In todays houses do they have a master shut off for the panel? I know that the panel has a shut off for the breakers, but should there be a shut off for the panel. I certainly can't do anything with a panel, when it's powered, although I know electricians can. I'm certain I'd be toast.
the only problem I can possibly forsee with having a professional come out, other than cost, is that the work would have to be inspected. If the building inspector were to look at anything other than his cut off, the 220 lines hanging loose from the basement ceiling, the obvious criss-crossing of wires, the no grounds, the alluminum to copper, and on and on; could he condemn my house? That would be worse than having a fire.
If I can get a cut off switch before the panel and after the power meter, it seems that would be the way to do it. But I don't know if that's done.
Calling the power company out to kill the power at the meter, every time I want to do anything at all to the panel, I think would get "old" really fast. --turn it off in the morning, turn it on in the evening?
I also know that someone did rewiring, because there are two meters. I hardly think a new 1950s house would be built with two electric meters. I'd pay to have things moved to one, but that'd take new panels and all that--and there is the problem of the cost as well as the dreaded inspection again. So I pay a couple of hundred dollars extra each year for the additional meter. --Now, if I could have saved all that money over the years, I'd have enough to hire that work, at least I think so.
The best way answer for it all, seems to go with the Ground Fault protection outlets.
I checked on cost and could replace a couple of them every month. The 15 amp are $7 and the 20 amp are $9, but I saw some that were $30 and $40. I wonder what the difference is?
And how do I test them each month? I know there is a test switch on them but how would I know it really is grounding or rather breaking the circuit? Would I plug in an extension cord and toss it into a pail of water? (I'm serious about that.)
If a few people would explain more to me how the ground fault receptacle boxes work, I'd appreciate it. I read on the internet about them being used as an alernative, but don't fully understand how they work.
--let's see--I think I mentioned the wire in the house, at least most of it is as was described as Romex--with the silvery coating that flakes off and tarry-like stuff, underneath, but with no ground.
I sure do appreciated your help. Thank you again, so much.
My knowledge of electrical engineering/wiring is very poor. I have learned a bit from reading and a bit the hard way (experience) but you know what you are talking about.
Oh, let me ask about my "experience." The oven light broke, leaving only the base in the socket. I thought, okay, I'll turn off the power switch, then use my needle-nose pliers to bend the casing so I can get a grip on it and turn it. ONly, when I was prying with my screwdriver and the screwdrive came across the casing and the center contact, I found myself ARC welding. It took all my strength and about two second of pulling before I could get the screwdriver free. Then I saw the hole in it--and this was a large, thick screwdriver. Is it correct then that the power switch does not, does not kill the power to the socket, but only interrupts it on one side, at the switch? So when I made contact inside the socket, I completed the circuit. Or is this a sign that the neutral and hot are not hooked up correctly? But it was really quite a shocking, jolt! I'm not much of an ARC welder in a light bulb socket.
I had thought about trying to do some grounding of a panel with a waterline, but as was suggested, the line would have to be metal, all the way. In this case, I know that the line is not metal all the way. It's a combination of galvanized, copper and PVC. So, trying to ground that way, won't work. And the water main, that comes into the house was just last year, replaced with PVC or something like that. --I can just see going outside, turning on a metal faucet, standing on wet ground, with the faucet pipe being "Hot." Would I have a bit of trouble in that circumstance? I would not like to be the condutor from hot to the ground. It might tickle. Yes?
So, you are getting me there with understanding & warnings. I really appreciate it.
Now, just a bit more info on the ground fault circuits and a few other things I mentioned.
It's is great to have people help.
I just wish I could have answered sooner.
If anyone neeeds help with their computers, I'd be happy to give that a go. I am a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer and worked for a time at INTEL.
And as Doug mentioned, him being in Amateur Radio, I used to be a HAM operator also.
And Doug, good luck with the RF stuff. I once got a really nasty burn while doing an experiement with old, large Mercury Power tubes that put out short-x-rays and experimenting with those and knocking a few electrons or adding some to an isotopic, alpha source. ( I changed it to a highly excited, Beta source--quite an experiment). But to the point of the RF burn--when I was doing this, I had the plate cap off my transmitting tube and unbeknowst to me, a finger was resting on that cap. I smelled something burning. It wasn't a resistor, capacitor frying or ozone, but a sweet, burn smell. Then I noticed my finger, where it was and the smoke coming off it. When I looked at it, all I could see was a black-pin point where the RF had broken through the skin. It didn't hurt at all. It didn't hurt that is until the next day. Then, my finger felt like it was full of shards of glass. That was my 1st and only experience I wanted to have with high-power, high frequency RF. I was mainly into sub-atomic chemistry and HAM antennas. I I built all my own atennas. I made a ground-plane, which was only a couple of meters high, but beneath it, I had turned most of the backyard into a reflector. Essetially, I had a huge, reflecting antenna. I could control it directionally by moving the point of the RF generation. It was amazing. On 70 wts. my 1st contact with it (I was in Lousiana) mid Asia (Soviet Union), then it followed the skip right around the world. That was pretty good for 70 wts., a piece of television mast, some chicken wire and a few calculations. It was a whole lot of fun. --except of course for the RF burn, being hit by lightning, blowing up my transmitter (I mean exploding it--1K wts was a bit too much)--for you electricians you should have seen my HAM room. It was on its own panel and I was pulling enough current to light up the block. But those were the good ol'days of being at NASA, heavily into high-energy physics, theoritical studies on black-holes, theory of relativity stuff, work for the government, which if I told you what I did, I'd have to kill you (ha!) Seriously though, it really was fun. i DID indeed have a top-level security clearance and was selected to be in a special group of people--sent to White Sands, the Cape, or Houston. And I gave up a scholarship to MIT because I believed there would not be any women there. Except, I forgot about Vassar. So, I chose another university and got my degrees in Music. Now, I'm back into computers & a touch of SETI as well as quantum mechanics.
Again, thanks for all the help. You people know what you are talking about. I appreciate your help so much. And if I can help with any computer problems, please ask.
Bob

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(long tale of horror snipped)
Gee, I wonder why you are having computer problems? Think the spikes and brownouts may have something to do with it?
Can't see from here, but I'd say a whole-house rewire is in order. If the budget isn't there to do it pretty in the walls, I'd consider doing it in conduit and surface raceway, and just cut off and abandon the old stuff in place, with blank covers over the boxes. (Used to be quite common in college towns, as they split up the big old mansions into student slum housing.) Ugly But Safe is better than a fire waiting to happen. As long as a proper service panel is in place, you or the next owner can rewire room-by-room with pretty wiring as the budget permits.
aem sends...
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A proper grounding system means an (outside) ground stake and/or cold water pipe connection at your service entrance (depending on your local code). Furthermore, you must have a grounding conductor (in addition to the neutral and hot wires) from the service panelboard to your outlets. (If you live in the Chicago area, metal conduit can serve this purpose, otherwise, you need to connect the ground wire that comes with flexible cable). These are things that are normally done by an electrician or a homeowner that knows what he is doing and get get the proper permits and inspections.
Beachcomber
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stars1234 posted for all of us...

Asked and answered MANY times - do your own research.
--
Tekkie Don\'t bother to thank me, I do this as a public service.

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I don't know what part of the country you're in, but _I've_ never seen metal covered cable in ANY house of any age. All the old houses I've been in or dealt with have been cloth Romex. (not Romax)
--
Steve Barker



"Doug" < snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com> wrote in message
  Click to see the full signature.
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Steve Barker LT wrote:

bx.......
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wrote:

How many people were killed over the last 40 years?
Ok, multiply that by how much money you should spend to fix the 'problem'.
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stars1234 wrote:

I just asked a very similar question a week ago or so; some good ideas here:
http://groups.google.com/group/alt.home.repair/browse_frm/thread/e1a87f0d22eacae7/574499988c880ae3#574499988c880ae3
HTH
nate
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Get electrician to look at your home, its free and there may be good ideas like what you think is romex is BX I can easily add grounds to your outlets cheap:)
Go buy a outlet tester they are about 5 bucks check your outlets to see if they are grounded. What I wrote above probably applies to you!
At minimium get a grounded outlet installed in a handy location with GFCI for outdoor use.........Its a first ste in making things safe
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Put a gfci on the first outlet of every string, if you can't determine the first outlet, they make[expensive]gfci breakers.
The power company will usually upgrade the wire from the pole to the house for free. That may solve the dimming problem.
Upgrading the breaker panel to a new 100 amp service is not crushingly expensive, and would be a start.
snipped-for-privacy@aol.com wrote:

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Tee hee.
Buy yourself a bunch of GFCI outlets. When you can identify which outlet comes first, put the GFCI in the upstream outlet and feed the others from that. Otherwise, install the GFCIs to replace the "ground" type duplex outlet.
If you carefully read the instructions of the GFCI you will see this is perfectly permitted. Since you don't have a ground, you should label each outlet as "ungrounded, GFCI protected." For safety sake, you should test your new outlets monthly using the built in test button.
It's good to have the narrow slot connected to the HOT and the wide slot connected to the neutral but a GFCI opens both conductors when something goes wrong so don't lose too much sleep if HOT and NEUTRAL were reversed.
Obviously, you home wiring is obsolete and you should have a long term plan to improve it. But adding the GFCIs will make your wiring reasonably safe. They only cost about $9 each or less at your BIG BOX store.
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You would be better off installing a new circut, even if it's just one outlet stuck in the wall below the service panel, that's 20A and grounded, and then running a heavy-duty extension cord outside when you want to use the tools.
As for the rest your electrical system, I'd say you need to either start budgeting for a complete tear-out and re-do, or learn to live a a low-power lifestyle.
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I haven't read any of the responses you received so i may be repetitive.
I purchased a house in 1971 and had it inspected. It had knob and tube wiring! I got a $4,000 discount because of that, did most of the rewiring myself, prearranged to pay a contractor to review my work in stages, and be there for the building inspector. Of course I had the contractor pull the permit after he was satisfied, I knew what I was doing. Saved a hell of a lot of money.
I learned Electricity and Electronics in the Navy. When the job was finished, the contractor offered me a job, but I thanked him and told him I only did manual labor for myself.
If you had the house inspected in 1971, you might have learned about the problems. I know of two homes that burned down from interior wall fires due to aluminum wiring.
Dick
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