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Is it ok to connect the ground wire of a new light/fan fixture to the ground wire of the house without connecting them to the ground screw in the outlet box? The new ceiling fan/light had a stabilizing bar which covered the box preventing me from getting the ground wire back into the box. I made the connections securely with twist caps and electrical tape so that none of them could become loose, or lay near each other. I am hoping that the ground wire from the house was already grounded... is this a moderately safe assumption?

The outlet box was a plastic box.

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WRT the hope that the house ground wire is actually grounded - the answer is it should be, but you can't be sure without testing or tracing the line. Case in point - I owned a house where all the ground wires were properly connected in the upstairs apartment, the ground from the breaker box ran to the plumbing stack - and the stack switched from metal to pvc half way down. Result: Entirely ungrounded apartment. So - double check! –  The Evil Greebo Oct 1 '13 at 10:56
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2 Answers 2

Metal boxes should be grounded. This prevents the risk that the box becomes electrically charged from a short inside the box. With a ground, that would result in the breaker tripping. Without a ground, the box remains charged until accidentally touched, and possibly electrifying other objects that touch the box (e.g. components of the fan), though as tester101 says, the risk of this is fairly low.

To remedy this, you can get a short piece of proper gauge copper wire and run it from the existing twisted wires to the ground screw on the box. You may need a larger wire nut when adding the third wire to the twisted grounds.

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Metallic Boxes

If it's a metal box, technically, the grounding conductor should be connected to it (NEC 2011 250.148(C)). However, if you've already installed the fixture without bonding it, it's not likely to cause a problem. If the fixture itself is properly grounded, and the canopy completely covers the box. It's not likely anybody will ever come into contact with the box itself during normal operation, and so the danger is relatively low.

In most cases, the box and fixture become bonded when the fixture is installed. As long as one of the two are grounded, there shouldn't be a problem. Code bodies and safety experts say to bond both the fixture and the box, because there's no way for them to be sure that a fixture will properly bond during installation. The fixture design likely is not governed by the same code body that governs the installation of the box, and the installation of said fixture may be completed by an untrained person. So the code body calls for everything to be grounded, to try and limit the potential dangers. They also want to avoid the situation where the continuity of the grounding conductor can be interrupted by the removal of a device or fixture (NEC 250.148(B)).

Nonmetallic Boxes

Nonmetallic boxes are not required to be grounded. Only the devices, and/or fixtures installed in them must be grounded (NEC 2011 250.148(D)).

National Electrical Code 2011

250 Grounding and Bonding

VII. Methods of Equipment Grounding

250.148 Continuity and Attachment of Equipment Grounding Conductors to Boxes. Where circuit conductors are spliced within a box, or terminated on equipment within or supported by a box, any equipment grounding conductor(s) associated with those circuit conductors shall be connected within the box or to the box with devices suitable for the use in accordance with 250.148(A) through (E).

(A) Connections. Connections and splices shall be made in accordance with 110.14(B) except that insulation shall not be required.

(B) Grounding Continuity. The arrangement of grounding connections shall be such that the disconnection or the removal of a receptacle, luminaire, or other device fed from the box does not interfere with or interrupt the grounding continuity.

(C) Metal Boxes. A connection shall be made between the one or more equipment grounding conductors and a metal box by means of a grounding screw that shall be used for no other purpose, equipment listed for grounding, or a listed grounding device.

(D) Nonmetallic Boxes. One or more equipment grounding conductors brought into a nonmetallic outlet box shall be arranged such that a connection can be made to any fitting or device in that box requiring grounding.

(E) Solder. Connections depending solely on solder shall not be used.

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