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Grounding An Electrical Outlet

electrical outlet
Fix the ground problems in your home. Blain’s Farm & Fleet will show you how to ground an electrical outlet in this handy guide.

If your outlets aren’t properly grounded, you can get hum in your stereo or sound system, flickering lights, and all sorts of other inconvenient quirks in your home electronics. We’ll help you put an end to them by showing you how to test and ground your electrical outlets.

How To Ground an Electrical Outlet

1. Use a circuit tester to check the ground on your electrical outlet. 

While you’re at it, check all of the outlets in your house. You can mark the face plates of the ones with ground issues by sticking a piece of masking tape to them. Only work on one outlet at a time to make sure you do everything correctly and don’t get distracted.

2. Turn off the circuit breaker controlling the outlet you’ll be working on. 

You can either turn off the main power to the whole house, or just the circuit breaker that controls the outlet you’re working on.

3. Use the circuit tester on the electrical outlet again to confirm that there is no power to it. 

Better safe than sorry.

4. Remove the face plate from the electrical outlet with a screwdriver

The vast majority of outlet face plates have two flat head screws to hold them in place, so you’ll most likely need a flat head screwdriver for this step.

If you can’t get your fingernails between the face plate and the wall to remove it, use a utility knife to firmly but carefully cut around the outlet and free the plate up from any paint or wall paper that might be getting in the way.

5. Schedule an inspection and refer to your local electrical codes. 

Whether you’re doing it yourself or having a professional electrician do this job, you have to have the work inspected to make sure it’s up to code. Most states require at least one inspection for residential electrical work to be done, even if it’s a DIY job.

Federal code requires all indoor GFCIs within 5 feet of the floor to be child safe and marked clearly, while outdoor outlets must be weatherproof.

If you’re changing an outlet from the old two-prong, ungrounded type to a GCFI, make sure you confirm that what you are doing is acceptable under your local building & electrical code.

6. Remove the electrical outlet. 

Pull the outlet out of the box as far as you can. You’ll want to find the green grounding screw on the bottom of the outlet. The wire connected to it may simply be an uninsulated copper wire, but it might also have green insulation around it.

7. Take stock of the wiring in the box and make the necessary replacement or connections.

If there are three wires in the box already (black, white, and copper or green), all you need to do is connect the copper or green wire to the green grounding screw on the receptacle. If it’s already connected to the screw, try tightening it down well. Make a loop at the end of the wire with a pair of needle nose pliers and place it on the screw in a clockwise direction. This way, tightening down the screw will also tighten the loop around the terminal.

If you have a ground wire, it might not necessarily be grounded. To check, hook it up to a grounded outlet and use your circuit tester to make sure it’s properly grounded.

If there is no ground wire present, you’ll have to install a GFCI receptacle. This is, of course, assuming that a ground wire has been run to the outlet and that the outlet box is grounded. If not, and there are only two wires in the box, you’ll have to install an entirely new outlet. It is against code to run a separate ground wire to an existing outlet for a GFCI receptacle in the US.

Many times, the ground wire will be connected to the cable coming into the box. In this case, you can just go ahead and install a three-prong electrical outlet. It will be grounded through the screws that fasten it to the box.

8. Fasten down the outlet receptacle and face plate. 

Make sure the screws are all snug and that everything is neatly tucked away in the box.

9. Turn the power back on and retest the electrical outlet. 

Use your circuit tester to test the electrical outlet one more time and make sure you accomplished your mission.

For more home electrical tips and how to articles on everything from mapping your circuit breaker panel to replacing a light switch, check out our Lighting & Electrical blog.

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