I am replacing old receptacles with new tamper-proof ones.

I opened one in my basement and realized it wasn't currently grounded, the electrical housing is a real mess and has a copper "ground" wire going across it in the back with no way to connect it to the receptacle.

So, how do you ground something in this case?

1) Buy some wire at hardware store, cut the ground wire, attach the 2 cut ends and the purchased wire together with a wire connector (marrette)?

2) Buy some wire at hardware store and just connect the ground on the receptacle to the electrical housing?

What are my options? (wish I could post a picture)

  • 1
    Is your outlet box metal with a bare copper wire screwed to the back?
    – Edwin
    Commented Jan 3, 2015 at 4:06
  • @Edwin yes it is exactly that... pretty standard
    – Jonathan
    Commented Jan 3, 2015 at 4:14

3 Answers 3


GFCI outlets are a code-legal way to upgrade non-grounded outlets, and are a good investment.

  • Thanks for reminding me of that... I've got several old two-prong outlets which are probably not wired with ground, and a GFCI is probably a better solution than trusting the old conduit as a ground path.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 2:14

Use self-grounding outlets. A self-grounding outlet should be labeled as such when you buy them. If not labeled, you can tell one if it has a thin copper wire or brass tab (see picture) running across one of the screw holes that attach it to the outlet box. These outlets, so long as you have a grounded metal box, provide a safety ground by "bonding" the outlet to the box.

self-grounding outlet with brass tab

Leave the bare copper wires twisted and screwed to the back of the box. As far as connecting the black and white wires, I always use 'pigtails'. Make two 6 inch lengths of wire (pigtails), one white and one black. Attach one end of the pigtails to the outlet screws, and then attach the other end to the wires in the box using a wire nut. The black wire is "hot" and attaches to the outlet's brass screw. The white wire is "neutral" and attaches to the outlet's silver colored screw. Connecting the wires in the box with a wire nut reduces the risk of continuity failures, and helps to preserve the length of the wire in the box if you have to remove the outlet in the future.

Wire nuts

  • how do you post pictures? would be much easier to show my issue then describe it ... But the idea of a "self-grounding" outlet sounds awesome ... didn't see any last time I went but will ask again tomorrow.
    – Jonathan
    Commented Jan 3, 2015 at 5:37
  • In the edit section, there's an image icon to the right of the squiggly brackets.
    – Edwin
    Commented Jan 3, 2015 at 6:22

Safety first - shut off the breaker or remove the fuse.

You need a piece of bare copper wire, 14 gauge. You can either strip insulation off some wire you have laying around, or else cut off a piece of ground wire.

Securely fasten (twist) the new ground wire to the wire that is fastened to the box, and secure with a wire nut (marrette). Connect the black wire (hot) to the brass screw and the white wire (neutral) to the silver screw.

  • my problem is that the wire that is fastened to the box is a single/solid copper wire going from left to right and tied down to the screw on the electrical box. There is nothing (no en) to secure with a wire nut (marrette).
    – Jonathan
    Commented Jan 3, 2015 at 4:20
  • How many wires are coming in to the electrical box? If only one, then one of the ground wire ends must be loose.
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 3, 2015 at 4:30
  • There are 6 wires coming out of the box (2 black and 2 white) which I connect to the receptacle. There are also two copper wires that are twisted together through one of the holes into the back of the box and I cannot pull them out, I imagine this is where it ends (can't be a single solid wire, wouldn't make sense) but I can't get to it without removing the box (and doing some minor plaster damage). Was hoping for an easier solution.
    – Jonathan
    Commented Jan 3, 2015 at 4:41
  • Sounds like you have two 14/2 Romex-type cables coming into the box - each cable has 1-black, 1-white, and 1-ground (no insulator) wire. There is no reason for the ground wire to be sticking through the box. Unfortunately, if you cannot do expose the end, then you can't fasten all the ground wires together (bonding, in electrical parlance).
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 3:26

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