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Background:

I recently moved into a house in the western US built in the late 1950's. Most of the receptacles are two prong and don't have any ground wire running to them. I would like to have three-prong outlets so that I can plug in modern appliances and devices and so that things are as safe as possible.

From what I've read, including here, some of my options are put circuits on GFCI's and labeling them "no equipment ground" (either a GFCI receptacle at the beginning of a circuit, or use a GFCI breaker), run a separate ground wire to the receptacles, or pull a new wire to all the receptacles.

As I understand it the GFCI option is just as safe as having an earth ground except for two issues: 1) surge protectors (or surge protection inside grounded equipment) can't function without the ground, and 2) I may be hunting around to reset GFCI receptacles more than in a house with fewer GFCIs.

Edit: The service and main panel have been updated relatively recently (I don't know exactly when, but I'm fairly certain within the last 20 years) with 200A service and modern looking GE main panel.

Plan

I'm thinking of putting most outlets in the house on GFCI circuits and running new (grounded) wiring to a few outlets where there will be electronics with surge protectors or three-prong cords.

This is a picture of the panel. There's a service panel outside that feeds this panel (with a 150 A breaker I believe) and directly feeds the outside AC compressor. main electrical panel showing breakers

Questions:

  • Does this seem like a bad idea? Reasons are to avoid tearing up too many walls/ceilings and/or the cost of lots of electrician time if it comes to that.
  • One electrician I talked to recommended pulling all new wire, not just because that's more time for his guys but "because your house is due for a rewire anyway" (this was over the phone, he hadn't seen it, just based on the age of the house). I understand the original wiring could be brittle/not the greatest (it's cloth-covered NM as far as I know), but does that sound right? I can't say I've heard "due for a rewire" before like it's a scheduled maintenance issue.
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    What is the condition of your breaker/fuse panel(s)? That may be a more important thing to work on, and it may also affect the rest of the wiring. AFCI also enters into the picture (helps protect certain issues with older wiring, among other things). And do you have GFCI for where it matters most - kitchen & bathrooms? – manassehkatz-Moving 2 Codidact Oct 21 at 4:03
  • The panel and service is fairly new - I updated the question with that. I don't have GFCI in the bathrooms and kitchen for the most part, so that's definitely part of the plan. – Daniel Andrews Oct 21 at 14:09
  • Where in your house is your panel located? – ThreePhaseEel Oct 21 at 22:30
  • @ThreePhaseEel it's on the main level, pretty central, and above the furnace room in the basement. The basement is finished on the half of the house where the furnace room is, but the other side is all open. The attic is pretty much out of the picture for running anything. – Daniel Andrews Oct 22 at 3:09
  • Do you know if the feed into your inside panel is 3-wire or 4-wire? (Since you have the outside main, you should be able to make things safe to open up the inside panel by turning the outside main off) – ThreePhaseEel Oct 22 at 3:29
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Your plan is solid and well thought out in my opinion. The one thing that may give you problems with GFCI receptacles is wire fill and box size. GFCI receptacles are big and sometimes a real bugger to get in some locations just be aware of this but I prefer GFCI’s locally even when they are tight.

You don’t have to pull a ground for every circuit back to the service panel you can run 1 ground from the panel to a central location and splice other grounds from there to your receptacles, this method is allowed as long as the circuits all come from the same panel. This is a fairly new change and makes running new grounds much easier.

Replacing the wire is it needed? I have worked on much older homes that the old cloth was in surprisingly good shape, where we run into issues many times is the service panel or lack of a modern panel.

There are some panels I will only remove there are a couple of brands like FPE stablock (federal pacific) another brand Zinsco if in good shape I recommend replacement but will still work on these. Anything with screw in fuses I recommend upgrading to a modern panel and other panels that the companies went out of business and we cannot get GFCI or AFCI breakers.

So if your wiring is in good condition is it required to be replaced? The answer is no knob and tube wiring is still allowed but if you can afford it it can be just as easy in many cases to pull new wire compared to just a ground wire. If the wiring is in poor shape electricians have ways of working with it but trying to keep from pulling new wire thinking that will save $ cost more in time.

If you can find a electrician that is good with replacing old wiring you may find only small patches are need at mid wall or that’s what I do to minimize the patching and that may be needed to bring the grounds to the circuits with surge protection.

If you can post clear photos of your service panel we can advise you on that also.

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  • Thanks, the panel is fairly new, I updated the question with that. Luckily not old enough here to have knob and tube. Running separate grounds does sound like a good idea to me, any splices/connections for that separate ground would need to be in an accessible junction box just like normal right? – Daniel Andrews Oct 21 at 14:11
  • I usually tap the ground in the box’s yes homes that have no grounds I usually run a bare copper conductor down the center of the building in the attic or crawl space, then make a loop every 10’ or so. The loop allows me to add a box and splice for other circuits at a later time. We still have to follow wiring methods as outlined in the code I find a single run of bare #6 down the center line of a residence is the best way as it can be run exposed. I have one inspector that gets really picky but he allows this but won’t allow thhn not sure why because the insulation helps to protect the wire – Ed Beal Oct 21 at 16:14
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    GFCI breakers are one method to avoid fill problems with GFCI outlets. – Ecnerwal Oct 21 at 18:43
  • I fully agree but there are quite a few panels out there that will never have GFCI breakers I can think of several more than the ones I listed bulldog pushmatics great panels but no longer available. – Ed Beal Oct 21 at 19:40
  • GFCI comment posted after the panel was shown to be a GE Powermark Gold looking rather spiffy and modernized, and with only a few tandems... – Ecnerwal Oct 22 at 2:05

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