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
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
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?
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
--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,
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
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
I am a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer and worked for a time at
And as Doug mentioned, him being in Amateur Radio, I used to be a HAM
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
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
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.
(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.
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.
I just asked a very similar question a week ago or so; some good ideas
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
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.
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
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.
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.
I haven't read any of the responses you received so i may be
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.
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