My house (1950s) currently has a bunch of 2 prong outlets or un-grounded 3 prong outlets. I was told in order to be up to code all un-grounded 3 prong outlets need to switched to GCFI outlets. Or If I wanted to use 3 prong appliances I need to upgrade those to GCFI outlets. I decided I would change a bunch of my home outlets. I went ahead and bought a bunch of Leviton outlets. Unfortunately I didn't realize that these outlets come with a self grounding clip. almost all the boxes in my house are metal but I don't know if any of them are grounded correctly if any. My question is this: is it safe to use self grounding outlets in a questionably or un-grounded metal box or do I need to find some GFCI outlets that are not self grounding?

  • 1
    Not a pro, so just a comment: If you don't have proper grounding, it doesn't really matter where the grounding goes - as long as it doesn't touch hot (obviously) or neutral (because that would bond ground and neutral in the wrong place). GFCI basically solves the problem because if you are in a "some electricity is going over ground" then it won't actually complete a circuit over ground (bad) but it will end up stopping because the GFCI will detect that not all current is going back over neutral - and solve the problem by cutting power. May 5, 2020 at 17:46
  • Can you post photos of the insides of the boxes involved? May 5, 2020 at 23:35

2 Answers 2


No no no. A "self-grounding clip" is nothing important as far as your concerns about grounding. It doesn't help at all, and it doesn't really hinder either.

The purpose of a "self-grounding clip" is to resolve some minutae in Code. I assume you've removed a receptacle or switch at some point in your life... you know how there are 2 screws, top and bottom? Ever think "Hey, these screws are metal, and so is this yoke. Is that a valid grounding path?" Code says "Yes" for switches (since they don't need much) and "no" for receptacles (because the yoke-to-screw-head contact is pretty flaky, especially when you're pushing a plug in). Self-grounding receps have an extra spring clip to make that yoke-mounting screw contact reliable enough. That is all.

As such, "self-grounding" doesn't make a hill-of-beans difference to whether the boxes are grounded.

If a ground is isolated, it doesn't matter either way - though it can be valuable to retrofit ground to that location.

The only thing of concern is if you have a group of outlets whose wires are connected to each other yet are not grounded to the panel and grounding system. In that case, they aren't grounded, and worse, will share ground faults - if one of them has a ground fault, it will place 120V on all their grounds! So you could get nailed touching your PC, when actually it's a heater that's ground faulting!

I was told in order to be up to code all un-grounded 3 prong outlets need to switched to GCFI outlets.

That's the simpleton version. The real version is fitting 3-prong outlets in grandfathered 2-prong sites require ground, or, may instead be GFCI protected. The GFCI protection doesn't need to be at the receptacle. It can be anywhere, e.g. fed from the LOAD terminals of a GFCI breaker or other device upline. Also, footnote, outlets thus protected need a sticker saying so.

Perfect world, you only need one GFCI per circuit if you are smart and the wiring cooperates. If you're fitting 2+ GFCIs per circuit, you may be better off fitting GFCI/AFCI breakers - it's much easier to install, and you get better protection including from most "old wiring" problems. If you're interested, pop off your panel deadfront and shoot us a well-lit picture (yeah I know, hard to do with the main breaker off lol) and ask a question about how to GFCI it. We know what to look for.

If you are choosing "One GFCI recep at every receptacle", then do not use the LOAD terminals at all. The are ONLY for extending protection to downlines. The LINE terminals are designed to take 2 wires, if you read the instructions carefully.

  • 1
    I would say a GFCI doesn’t bring the system up to code, it only allows the use of a 3 prong receptacle. Current code allows for a separate ground wire to be run from the panel feeding the circuit or a branch circuit from the same panel to be used. The addition of a ground would be up to code.
    – Ed Beal
    May 6, 2020 at 14:21
  • @EdBeal good eye, can't exactly do this in new construction lol... May 6, 2020 at 15:34

Self grounding will not be a problem and will be a positive. If you want to know if the boxes are grounded after installing try a plug in 3 light tester that has a GFCI test button, if the test button on the plug in tester works the boxes are grounded if it doesn’t work but the test reset on the GFCI works the boxes are not grounded. 2 wire is still legal and code doesn’t require the updates but it is a good idea in bathrooms and around sinks.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.