I am going through my house I just purchased that was built in the 1950s and replacing all of the light switches as the old ones are faded and quite unsightly. I noticed when I pulled out my first switch that it only has two terminals and is missing a ground terminal; however, there is bare copper wire in the electrical box along with a neutral wire. The copper wire is coming out of the same bundle of wires entering the box as show in the picture below. Pictures attached below

Left side of switch Electrical box

So my question is now that I am installing new switches that contain a ground terminal, should I use that bare copper wire as ground? Or is that possibly used to ground the electrical box, for the fan, or something else down the line? Thanks!

  • Is the junction box steel? Does the ground wire go to the box? Does the switch screw down all the way hard flush against the ears on the box? Is that bare metal? Is there nothing in the way (like a little paper square to capture the screw)? If yes to all, that is a valid grounding path. Apr 3, 2017 at 5:23

1 Answer 1


You'll need to do a bit of digging and wirenut a pigtail on that ground, but yes, that is a ground and should be used to ground your switch, as well as the box if it isn't already hooked up to said box. All metal things associated with a circuit hook up to the circuit's ground wire, by the way, so you can still hook onto it if it's grounding something "down the line" -- as long as all the cables coming in are connected to it, all the downstream boxes and devices will still be grounded.

  • Thank you! My local hardware store is closed so I can not fix this tonight, but is it safe to wire the switch without the ground for the night? Or should I reinstall the old switch until I can install the pigtail?
    – Derek D
    Apr 2, 2017 at 23:59
  • 2
    I'd leave it unwired and off-at-the-panel until it's all done and buttoned up (that way, you don't forget about what's going on). Apr 3, 2017 at 0:07

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