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For code-compliance reasons, I'm planning to replace an old-school porcelain bare-bulb light fixture in a closet with a Leviton 9860-LHG lampholder that I bought a few years ago but never got around to installing until today. It's a CFL fixture with an enclosed plastic top. (In closets it's a code no-no to have bare-bulb fixtures.)

But when I opened the 9860-LHG box, I noticed that the lampholder has only 2 wires-- hot and neutral-- but no ground wire. That said, the entire lampholder is plastic, so perhaps it's OK there's no ground wire since there's no other metal anywhere?

But before I install a fixture which is different from all other fixture in the house which have ground wires, I thought I'd check with the experts here.

Is a not-present ground wire OK in an all-plastic fixture like the 9860-LHG? Or should I go find another lampholder? If the answer varies based on local codes, I'm in Berkeley, CA.

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

Yes, that is normal. In a metal fixture, to put it simply: anything that can conduct electricity (but whose primary purpose is not to conduct) must be grounded. This is in case something shorts out and energizes the fixture, if someone grabs hold of the fixture (and provides a path to ground via their body) they don't get electrocuted. Having the fixture grounded causes the electricity to go to ground through the ground wire (even if someone is touching it at the time, in theory the ground wire provides less resistance than a human body and so the human won't be electrocuted), and probably will trip the breaker very quickly.

In a plastic fixture, there is no exposed metal that someone can touch, and so there is nothing to be grounded.

Note that the junction box it's mounted in must still be grounded though, just like any other fixture. Often even non-metallic junction boxes have ground screws in them: I have insulated boxes I used in the exterior walls of my house that are made of PVC, but have a ground terminal connected to a small strip of metal that connects to the screw terminals, in this way the screws holding whatever is attached to the box are grounded.

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Good answer. Again, a junction box only needs to be grounded if it is conductive (metal) -- one perk of using PVC boxes is that you don't need to ground them. –  Shimon Rura Feb 20 '11 at 4:09
    
@Shimon Rura: actually it depends, some (but not all) PVC boxes do actually require ground as well. I've updated my answer, thanks for pointing this out. –  gregmac Feb 20 '11 at 22:15
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