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I live in an old house with my parents (who are the homeowners), and have a problem where some of the electrical outlets in the oldest parts of the house have not been upgraded from two-prong to three-prong outlets. There are two outlets in particular that we have various electronics plugged into, one powering some networking gear and the other powering a TV and a desktop computer setup. In order to use modern electronics with these outlets, we use a combination of cheater plugs and extension cables, then run surge protectors off of those as needed. This setup has worked for years with no issues, but I remain concerned about its safety and efficacy over the long term. I have inquired with my parents to see whether they would be receptive to hiring an electrician to properly rewire those outlets, but they are of the "if it's not broke, don't fix it" mentality and do not wish to spend the money to update those outlets.

One idea that I had to help address this was to attach a wire to the ground tab on the cheater plugs and run that over to a grounded three-prong outlet on the same circuit to ground them. To do this, I would utilize one length of copper wire like so with closed-end wire terminals to connect the ground tabs from both cheater plugs together, then I would run a second length of wire from one of the cheater plugs to the nearest three-prong outlet and connect it using a ground adapter like this. All three plugs are located on the same circuit, with two of the plugs in the same physical room, so I do not believe there should be any major issue electrically doing this.

Would this be a viable solution for protecting these important circuits from ground faults? If not, is there a better solution that would provide a similar result? Remember, fixing the root cause of this issue is not possible at the present time, so an external solution is necessary.

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  • Do grounded receptacles improve the performance of TV, WIFI, etc. (by grounding the shielding), or does the ground just protect from shock? – Jim Stewart Apr 24 at 11:14
  • Is grounding necessary for surge protectors to work? – Jim Stewart Apr 24 at 11:21
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    Have to also check that the three prong outlets have been connected to ground, they should be, but someone might have just connected hot and neutral and still have no ground connection. – crip659 Apr 24 at 13:27
  • Folks below are talking GFCI, which is good and legal, but one quirk to be aware of is that junction boxes of a certain vintage are a little smaller (volumetrically) than typical modern boxes, and sometimes it's hard to pack a gfci and connections into that tiny space. Hacks include grabbing the wire as it exits the panel and adding a gfci in a handy box, or if the panel permits, changing the standard breaker to a gfci breaker. – Aloysius Defenestrate Apr 24 at 16:10
  • @crip659 Yeah, those are verified to be connected to ground. I've got surge protectors in those outlets and they all come up as properly grounded. – TheAppleFreak Apr 25 at 11:02
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If you are really worried about it, like K H said, get a GFCI outlet and replace the first outlet in the circuit. Mark it and all downstream outlets with "GFCI protected, no equipment ground" labels. GFCI protection works just fine without a ground wire.

But from a practical perspective, you are probably not at much risk to start with. For you to be shocked by equipment with a ground fault, there needs to be a path thru you to ground. That's why GFCI was originally only required in locations like kitchens, bathroom, garages and outdoors: Plumbing is a path to ground, concrete is, and certainly being outdoors is. If you have hotwater or steam radiators for heat, those are a path to ground as well. So unless you're grabbing a pipe with one hand and touch a piece of equipment that has a ground fault, you are pretty safe.

But again, if it worries you, just get some GFCI outlets, they will work without a ground.

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  • This calms my nerves a fair bit. I suppose the wiring always seemed a little sketchy to me, but you're right, our use cases don't offer a path through us to ground. – TheAppleFreak Apr 25 at 11:08
  • @TheAppleFreak interesting use of the term "use case", I suspect you are an IT person, because of the use of that term. I am too. If you like my answer, it's customary here to give it an up vote and even accept it as the correct answer. – George Anderson Apr 25 at 11:23
  • Heh, guilty as charged. I've marked your response as the answer, though apparently I need a bit more reputation before I can vote. – TheAppleFreak Apr 26 at 14:32
  • @TheAppleFreak to get points, take the tour diy.stackexchange.com/tour that'll get you 100 points right away. – George Anderson Apr 26 at 15:06
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The problem you may encounter is that in many areas, even with a homeowners permit, you have to rip drywall to get grounds to the ungrounded outlets to properly fix them. It sounds like the ground makes it to the first outlet in the chain, so you may wish to consider replacing that outlet with a GFCI and putting the other outlets on the load terminals. This alleviates most of the safety concerns of the ungrounded portion of the circuit. GFCI breakers can be used as well although they are often more expensive.

I'll leave to someone else to figure out the legality of stringing a surface ground, but my instinct tells me done properly it would be better than nothing. It would be wise to add information about where you live for a properly informed answer.

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  • Thank you for the response! I had briefly considered GFCI receptacles though passed them off as something only needed in a bathroom; I'll do some more research on that. – TheAppleFreak Apr 25 at 11:10
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No need to fool around with cheaters and plugs. It's perfectly legal to retrofit ground to the receptacles. You have to follow the "retrofit ground" rules, but it is straightforward. There's plenty on that on this site.

Also, you can use bare solid wire - you do not need to use green wire with its bulky insulation. In fact using THHN-insulated wire outside of a conduit is not allowed. (of course if the insulation is gone, it's not THHN anymore, so strip it :)

Also, you may want to stop buying everything from Amazon Marketplace. Look right below the 'Buy' button. When the seller is not Amazon, that is "Marketaplace" and it's the same as eBay. "Ships from Amazon" isn't really relevant, half the stuff you buy on eBay ships from Amazon lol. Anyway, most of it is unlisted or counterfeit junk, not something you want (or are even allowed to use, NEC 110.2) in your electrical system.

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  • Thank you for the advice on the wires! I wasn't aware of the restrictions on THHN, so if I go down this route I'll be sure to keep it in mind. As for the retrofitting, I'll look into those rules and see what's possible! Also the Amazon links were more for demonstration; chances are I'd probably go to a hardware store both to support local businesses and to not have to wait for shipping. – TheAppleFreak Apr 25 at 11:07

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