Ungrounded Outlets in Electrical Systems

If you own, rent, or are planning to purchase an older home, then you have heard plenty of stories about 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 often 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 1960s will likely have an ungrounded electrical system from the service panel to the outlets unless the 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 for the outlets and lights can be expensive.


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


GFCIs (Ground Fault Circuit Interpreters) first came onto the electrical scene in the early 1960s based on a concept by Professor Charles Dalziel of the University of California at Berkeley. The GFCI was first introduced 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. GFCIs protect people, and AFCIs protect property.

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

  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.”

Each option can replace all successive two-prong outlets on that circuit with three-prong outlets.

AFCIs are not an acceptable alternative to providing a ground wire to all electrical outlets and devices. GFCI, when installed accordingly per NEC, is an acceptable alternative to providing a ground wire to all electrical outlets and devices.

Aztec Home Inspections serves Harrisonburg and Charlottesville, VA and the surrounding area with home inspection services. Contact us to schedule your appointment.