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In my home, I've been replacing the outlets. The old ones are so loose that things don't stay plugged in! While doing this, I noticed that the ground wire(s) in every outlet are twisted together and screwed to the metal gang box. The grounds wire(s) are NOT connected to the outlet's grounding screw.

A few questions about this situation:

  1. Was this ok in the past?
  2. Is it safe? Will the way it's wired provide an adequate ground?
  3. Should I take the time to fix it by adding a pigtail to connect the ground to the ground screw on the new outlets?
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    Check the tabs for any broken-off tabs. This is the #1 place receptacle swaps go off the rails. – Harper Jun 28 at 16:00
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Ground wires were not implemented on a large scale until a few decades ago (possibly after your home was built). Outlets themselves may not have even had ground screws.

You should definitely add pigtails to the existing connection and ground your outlets. Use the same size wire as the existing ground conductor (or slightly larger if that's what you have on hand).

In case you're new to house wiring, be sure to 1) create good loops and wrap them clockwise on the screw, and 2) not put more than one wire under any screw.

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    The boxes are metal so are they not grounded by the body of the receptacle being screwed to the metal box ? – Alaska Man Jun 28 at 18:39
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    Yes, if the outlets are of the self-grounding type. – isherwood Jun 28 at 18:53
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Depends. There are several methods.

Run a ground wire

Obviously.

Direct contact

Note that receptacles have a metal yoke that hold the mounting screws. This yoke typically has "drywall ears" to hold the socket even with the drywall surface. If all these are true:

  • The junction box is metal, and grounded
  • The receptacle's yoke, when screwed down, has good, screwed-down contact with the metal of the junction box (not held proud of it by the drywall ears)
  • The yoke and junction box are bare metal (not coated with paint, gunk or rust)
  • The mounting screw does not have a non-conductive paper square on it to capture the screw and interrupt electrical contact

Spacers

They make metal spacers to solve the "proud of the drywall" problem, and allow you to tick the second box. You still need to tick the rest.

Self-grounding receptacle

These are receptacles with a tricky metal wing in relation to the mounting screw(s), which takes some extra steps to try to solve the "gap" and "paper square" problems above. You still need to conform with all of the above, e.g. metal box.


Note there is nothing wrong with the receptacle being held proud of the box; actually you want the drywall ears to do their job and hold the receptacle even with the wall, so the cover plate will fit properly. It's just that if it is held proud, you have to run a ground wire (or use a self-grounding receptacle).

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    I've read that if the receptacle is proud of the box, as so often happens, that there are spacers available to fill the gap in the mounting screws. Without them, the receptacle tends to move around whenever you plug/unplug loads, which can lead to stress on the receptacle wiring. The idea being that having the drywall ears snug against the drywall is not firm enough, because ... it's drywall. I've meant to retrofit all mine. – RustyShackleford Jun 28 at 17:12

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