How safe is your home from electrical mishaps? A way to gauge this is by looking at your outlets. Do you still have two-prong receptacle outlets? If you answered yes, then it is more likely that they are not yet grounded and should be updated by an electrician.
Two-prong outlets are an outdated standard and could be found in homes built prior to the 1960s. And the reason why you should replace them is that they lack the ground wire that protects from electrical surges — a feature that three-prong outlets have.
Grounding is an important aspect of your home’s electrical safety and will help ensure that your loved ones are safe from accidents related to electricity.
What is Grounding?
Before we answer that question, let’s do a review of how electricity flows in homes. Electricity enters a home through a service wire that is connected to the house. For most residential properties, these power lines are located overhead, while some are underground. A service conduit then carries conductors from the service lines to the electric meter and the service entrance panel. The electrical panel then serves as the main distribution point for the electrical circuits that are connected to outlets and switches throughout the house.
In an electrical circuit, there is an active wire, which supplies electricity and a neutral wire that carries the current back to the electric panel.
When there is a disruption on the neutral wire or if there is too much electricity (e.g due to a lightning strike or an electric surge), the excess current has nowhere to go, creating a build-up of energy. This power will then be stored in the wiring and the metal housing. And while a circuit breaker will cut off the electric supply during a short circuit, the electricity will still be present without a grounding wire. This then puts your home at risk of electrical fires, or if a person comes in contact with an electrically energized component, could cause an electric shock.
The purpose of grounding is to remove the excess electricity caused by a malfunction to exit safely back into the ground. A ground wire must be firmly connected to your electrical panel and outlets and is dug underground leading to a ground rod or a copper plate.
Types of Grounding
The electrical system can be grounded using copper rods or plates. The type of grounding for your residence depends on the type of terrain your home is built on, as well as the building codes – so make sure to consult a licensed electrician for this.
Grounding Rod – A ground rod is a copper or copper-coated steel that is usually eight to ten feet in length and around a half-inch in diameter. It is driven into the soil located near the main electrical service panel. The top of the rod could be visibly seen or sometimes it is sunk a few inches below the ground. This ground rod is connected to the main service wire and is secured by welding or by a toothed clamp.
Grounding Plate – A grounding plate is used for houses on rocky terrains, where it’s difficult to drive an eight-foot rod down the soil. The grounding plate is a thick metal that is buried under a foundation or a footing.
Again, if you’re not sure about what’s best for your home’s grounding, schedule a visit from a professional electrician to carry out an inspection.
Why is Electrical Grounding Important?
If the safety of your family and your home is important for you, grounding your electrical circuit must be a priority. Here are several reasons why grounding is a must:
1. Protection from Electrical Overload
Lightning storms are inevitable, and when these extreme weather conditions take place, power surges can occur in your home. When this happens, your electrical system will have a dangerously high amount of voltage that can fry your appliances and electronic devices.
With a grounded electrical system, however, this excess voltage will exit into the earth instead of damaging the appliances that are connected to it.
2. Helps Electricity To Travel Efficiently
A grounded electrical system makes it easier for electricity to go wherever it is needed, which helps ensure that electrical currents in your system travel efficiently and safely.
3. Stabilize Voltage Levels
When your electrical system is grounded, it helps ensure that the right amount of power is distributed to the right places throughout your home. This helps in preventing overloaded or blown circuits.
4. Prevent Electrical Accidents
Besides ruining your appliances beyond repair, without grounding, the high amount of electricity in your system can start an electric fire, which puts your property and the lives of your loved ones on the line. Another risk of an overload is an electrical shock that could be painful, or worst, fatal.
If you live in an old home that has three-prong outlets and you know that your electrical system is grounded, this is not a 100% assurance of preventing grounding issues. That’s because houses built before 1965 are grounded through a metal conduit and not the recommended copper grounding wires.
In addition, grounding rods could be damaged over time. The reasons could either be due to corrosion, freeze and thaw cycles, or reckless installation of other ground or landscaping equipment.
You can do a visual inspection of the condition of the grounding rod by checking if it is still securely installed under the ground. Note that it’s normal to see a few inches of the rod above the surface. However, if the rod is extended a foot or more above the soil or if it looks bent over, then its efficiency to release electricity to the ground might be lessened.
You should also check if the wire that links the electrical panel to the grounding rod is still in good condition.
Ensure Proper Grounding
If you are not sure whether your system is grounded or if it is safely and properly grounded, call a local electrician and schedule an electrical home inspection.
While it’s tempting to ground your home’s electrical system yourself and update your outlets to save money, you should never DIY electrical works. Remember, it’s your and your loved ones’ safety we’re talking about here. Only trust a professional to carry out these tasks.
Looking for an electrician near you? Same Day Pros has a comprehensive list of electricians working in your neighborhood. Find local contractors here.