What is an “Ungrounded Outlet”?

This blog will cover three different types of ungrounded outlets and what that actually means.

Discovering an ungrounded outlet is absolutely the most common electrical “defect” I run across in homes. But what does it mean? Is it unsafe? Does it have to be fixed? Let’s figure that out.

Three types…

An ungrounded outlet is just that – It’s ungrounded. Meaning it isn’t bonded to the electrical system. There are three types of ungrounded outlets commonly found in homes:

1) Classic pre 1960s two-prong outlets. The kind you have to get the .59 cent adaptors for.

2) Three-prong ungrounded outlets. Usually a product of pre-1960s outlets that’s been changed out along the way to have a faux ground post hole that’s not functional.

3) An outlet that was always supposed to be grounded or began as a standard three-prong grounded outlet and someone goofed with the wiring behind the receptacle. These are the ones that really need correcting. Why did they tamper with the wiring anyways?

two prong ungrounded outlet two-prong ungrounded outlet

I usually find 1’s and 2’s. Especially in older rural Minnesota homes. But I also find a sneaky number 3 on occasion too.

But are they safe?

I think it depends on who you ask and what their level of anxiety it is about it. The fact of the matter is, the outlet works fine without the ground. However,  if an event occurs where a ground could’ve been useful, it can cause some damage to your electronics. Without a grounding path, if there is a power surge, your electronic gadgets take the hit. Ungrounded outlets don’t even let surge protectors do their job so that may not be a total savior either. These outlets consequently do increase the risk of electrical shock.

If you plan to upgrade your outlets, hire a licensed electrician to do it for you.

For further reading, take a look at this article from InterNACHI: Ungrounded Electrical Receptacles. 

Written by: Alicia Leiviska – CPI, Northerneer Building Inspections 


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