I recently bought a house that was built in 1960. During the inspection, I was told that the majority of outlets weren't grounded. However, it appears a few are such as in the bathroom. How do I determine if my circuit breaker box is grounded? I had an electrician come out and he said it wasn't. Then he proceeded to tell me that he couldn't ground my fuse box and each of my outlets would need to be rewired. Somebody else told me that this doesn't sound right. I have read a lot on the internet and not sure what to do next?

  • 2
    Perhaps get a second opinion. It's very unlikely that your service is not grounded - in some places the ground bond is in the meter box rather than in the main panel (usually a matter of a few feet, and power company preference.) It's rather difficult to sort out remotely, though you could certainly help the odds of that by taking some pictures - but we may not be able to see what needs to be seen even then. still, try a shot or two of the main panel and a shot or two of the outside entrance/meter area, covering down to ground level - we might get a clue or two.
    – Ecnerwal
    Jul 14, 2014 at 15:46
  • 2
    It seems like there is some miscommunication between you and the electrician. One thing you should know is that "grounding" the breaker box means something very different than grounding an outlet. Grounding an outlet simply means there is a "backup" neutral wire. "Grounding" (or bonding to earth) a breaker box is what it sounds like. The distinction is important because all neutral wires are connected to all ground wires inside the breaker box. If the box wasn't properly bonded to earth, the electrician certainly should have offered to fix it. Grounding outlets will require new wire runs.
    – Paul
    Jul 14, 2014 at 16:02
  • 3
    @Paul A grounding conductor is NOT a "backup" neutral wire. Also, neutral and grounding conductors might not be connected in the breaker box. The grounded (neutral) conductor will be bonded (grounded) at a single location, which may or may not be in the service panel.
    – Tester101
    Jul 14, 2014 at 16:10
  • 1
    There is no way for somebody an internet away, to tell you if your breaker box is grounded. If an Electrician that was on site says it's not, then it's probably not.
    – Tester101
    Jul 14, 2014 at 16:13
  • 1
    Agreed, safety ground is not a "backup neutral". But the point about safety ground at the box, and safety ground at outlets, possibly being two different questions is valid. If the problem is that the outlets were not wired for safety ground, then yes, new wire may need to be pulled and each individual outlet will want to be fixed (or fitted as a two-wire outlet to avoid misleading folks about whether safety ground exists or not).
    – keshlam
    Jul 14, 2014 at 16:15

2 Answers 2


It's unlikely that your service panel ("circuit breaker / fuse box") is not grounded. That could lead to all sorts of weird problems, not to mention that it would be tantamount to malpractice for an inspector and an electrician to walk away from an electric service in that condition. Furthermore you said that some outlets are grounded. If they passed inspection then you have grounded service.

(Technical clarification: usually the ground and neutral buses are connected in the main panel, and the service is grounded upstream. By code such a connection can only be made in the main panel. In this case the main panel is still "grounded" even though one might pedantically argue that the ground connection is not at the main panel.)

It sounds like you've gotten confused, so here's the simple situation: Most of the outlets inside your house are ungrounded. They're the ones with only two holes, that can't accept a three-prong plug without an adaptor. That's it, and it's very common in construction of that vintage or older.

The only way to provide grounded outlets is to run new wires from the service panel and replace the receptacles. It's usually quite a pain/expense to do that, and apparently it's not required by your local ordinances. (NB: See @wallyk's comment: You may have 3-conductor wiring to outlet boxes, in which case switching to grounded receptacles is a relatively easy project you can do yourself with the power off.)

One tip: If you do opt to pull new wires so you can ground outlets use 12-gauge wire, not 14-gauge. That way you can support 20-amp circuits, which I have found comes in handy quite often, and the marginal cost shouldn't be that significant.

  • 1
    It was common for houses in the U.S. since about 1953 to be wired with 14-2 plus ground Romex or 12-2 plus ground. In each case the ground wire was a gauge step or two lighter than the insulated conductors. The ground wire was screwed to every junction box, wall switch box, and outlet box. So to convert a two prong outlet to a three prong requires replacing the outlet and adding a ground wire to the box's ground wire.
    – wallyk
    Jul 15, 2014 at 6:46
  • 1
    Which is way cheaper than pulling new conductors from the service panel!
    – feetwet
    Jul 15, 2014 at 13:38

In many cases in older houses the outlet box is not grounded due to code at the time. If grounded the ground was usually metal mesh around the wire screwed to the box and the neutral bar. The ground then was usually a wire that was then ran from the neutral bar to a pipe near by and clamped to it. The simple way to find out is to use a volt meter and put the red lead in the hot side of the outlet or touch it to the black wire. The other lead touch it to the metal box. If you get a reading of around 110 to 120 volts it's grounded. At which point grounding an outlet is a matter of adding a ground wire from the box to the outlet. If it is not grounded the next cheaper alternative to running new wire is to put a GFI outlet in. This basically gives the outlet its own built in breaker.

  • SO wrong it's not funny. A) The water pipe bond or grounding electrode conductor has nothing to do with the equipment ground at a receptacle. B) Testing from hot to the box IS NOT a way to test for a valid ground. Older AC cable may or may not be a suitable equipment grounding conductor. C) A GFI IS NOT a circuit breaker, nor does it trip under short circuit conditions. Jun 28, 2015 at 1:49
  • Huh: Google is recommending this answer (i.stack.imgur.com/iMOFZ.png) despite the fact that it has a -3 score and is greyed out (i.stack.imgur.com/X01Zz.png)
    – nealmcb
    Sep 1, 2020 at 18:50

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