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I’m under contract for a 2200 sq ft house built in 1900. Closing is currently set for aug 14th. After inspection the biggest red flag that deters me from buying is that there is no ground wires ran in the house. The walls are plastered with wood slats underneath. I need this remedied before closing. I have 2 small children who cannot be trusted around regular outlets, even with safety precautions(outlet plugs and box covers) I don’t feel okay about this. But I need to be out of my current house asap, there is structural concerns and a million other issues where I am currently. Current house will probably need demolished after moving. So the new house is much better but this electrical situation is a big issue. Can someone give me an estimate of how much this may cost for the wires to be ran and walls to be replaced? I know nobody could tell me exactly without checking or knowing more, but any info is very important to me. I don’t know anything about this and I need to know what I’m getting my family into. Thank you in advance.

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  • Can you get a picture of the breaker panel in the "new" house? Commented Jul 11 at 4:14
  • What kind of wiring? Conduit, if installed properly and kept intact, is a legitimate safety ground path.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jul 11 at 4:35
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    @keshlam Only metal conduit - PVC (or other non-metallic) is not. Can also be: non-grounded "Romex" or knob and tube. Or may be Romex with a ground but the ground wasn't connected. We just don't know. Commented Jul 11 at 4:52
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    The inspector just went over the major issues. The report will be finished and back by Friday. I can upload pictures and include his notes for the wiring if that would help.
    – M l
    Commented Jul 11 at 5:25
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    Good correction, @manassehkatz-Moving2Codidact. Should have said metallic.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jul 11 at 5:53

2 Answers 2

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Cost estimates are off-topic as they vary tremendously by location, and of course go up over time as well. That being said, we can still offer some advice that may help.

Grounding performs two different functions. One is to deal with getting natural electricity back to nature - i.e., the physical ground. That is done using (usually) two ground rods stuck in the ground several feet apart connected to a ground wire that goes to your main breaker panel. Sometimes the ground wire goes to a metal water pipe and sometimes both ground rod(s) and water pipe.

If that part of the grounding system is either non-existent of broken in some way, it is not that hard to fix, provided the main breaker panel is either outside the house or near the outside (typically on the inside of an outer wall with the meter on the outside of the same wall). Check this and fix if needed, should be only an hour or two for an electrician to resolve.

The second part is running ground wires to each individual circuit. This is the part that really gets into life safety and fire safety. The ground is there so that certain types of faults will trip a breaker very quickly. This is also the part that can get very expensive to fix if ground wires don't actually exist (sometimes they exist but are not in use for...reasons). However, at least for the typical 15A and 20A 120V circuits - which is the concern for little fingers - there is an affordable solution: GFCI.

GFCI, which stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, does not actually need "ground" to do its job. In fact, GFCI can provide better production than a simple ground because a small ground fault (to the actual ground wire) will not trip the breaker but it will trip a GFCI. More importantly, that same small ground fault will trip a GFCI even if ground does not exist in your wiring. The NEC recognizes this and allows you to install GFCI where GFCI would not otherwise be required in order to effectively simulate the protection (actually makes it even better) that would be provided by a ground wire.

Which means: GFCI on the first receptacle of each 15A or 20A 120V circuit. Tamper-resistant (which you want because of the kid factor, and required on new circuits by code anyway) GFCI duplex receptacles are around $ 15 - $ 20 each, depending on brand and source. (Do not buy these things on Amazon - go to Home Depot, Lowes or a hardware store so that you know you are getting reputable parts.) Installation (if you do it yourself) is usually pretty easy, but there are some possible complications, particularly if the existing receptacles are in very small boxes, which is often the case in older houses. But even if you have to replace boxes it will still be less work then replacing cables or running separate ground wires through the walls.

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    This is extremely helpful information. Thank you for adding all of this, it’s really helpful. I will do some research on the GFCI you mentioned.
    – M l
    Commented Jul 11 at 5:28
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FWIW I own a similar style home 1910 vintage, 2100 square feet, horse hair plaster and ornate woodwork. The wiring was a mix of everything used for the last hundred years (knob and tube, BX, Romex, etc). Not all it needed to be replaced and I had some additional work done. I used an electrician recommended by my insulation installer. Their specialty is rewiring with minimal destruction. They had two electricians at my house for four weeks. You can quesstimate based on their hourly rate plus materials. The largest plaster repairs were about 1 inch diameter. Having no wall insulation did make things easier. The point is you need to decide are you going to pay the electrician or the plasterer.

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