If you own, rent or are planning to purchase an older home then you have heard plenty of stories around ungrounded electrical systems and outlets. One of those stories is the high cost of updating the branch circuits to grounded circuits. Branch circuits are your outlet and lighting circuits. They branch out from your main service panel and are the most difficult to get a ground wire to and many times impossible without gutting the property.

So how can you get a safer electrical system?

All electrical systems will work just fine without a ground and provide to some level a safe electrical service. A home built before the early 1960’s will more than likely have an ungrounded electrical system from the service panel to the outlets unless the entire system has been updated. Service panel replacement is not a system update but a service update. Providing a ground to the panel is pretty easy but getting a ground wire to the outlets and lights can be a huge and expensive undertaking.


(Arc Fault Circuit Interpreters) which first became NEC (National Electrical Code) required for all bedrooms in 1999 and by 2014 it became a requirement that all branch circuits supplying outlets and lights for pretty much every room in our home be AFCI protected.  AFCI’s are designed to protect against, well exactly as the name suggests electrical arc’s which have varying causes and results. One such cause is loose connections at a junction box, outlet or light. AFCI’s do not provide personnel protection in the event of an electrical shock and the electrical leakage need to trip an AFCI is much higher than that needed to trip a GFCI.


(Ground Fault Circuit Interpreters) which first came on to the electrical scene in the early 1960’s is based on a concept by Professor Charles Dalziel of the University of California at Berkeley. The GFCI was first introduce into the NEC in 1968 where all underwater pool lighting had to be controlled by a GFCI. A GFCI will trip out when 5 milliamps of current leakage is detected. An AFCI will trip out when 30 milliamps of current leakage is detected. GFCI’s protect person and AFCI’s protect property.

In 2014 the NEC code Sec 210-7 (d)(3) began to allow the following when replacing old two prong outlets with three prong outlets.

  1. Replace the two prong receptacle (outlet) with a GFCI type outlet and mark the outlet with the words “No Equipment Ground”.
  2. Replace the two prong outlet with a three prong outlet and install a GFCI breaker per outlet circuit and mark the outlet with “GFCI Protected” and No Equipment Ground”

In each option all successive two prong outlets on that circuit can be replaced with three prong outlets.

AFCI’s are not an acceptable alternative to providing a ground wire to all electrical outlets and devices. GFCI’s when installed accordingly per NEC are an acceptable alternative to providing a ground wire to all electrical outlets and devices.