Working as an electrician in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area (especially in Washington D.C.) means you will definitely come across two prong outlets and homeowners looking to replace them with modern three prong ones. While it looks simple to do on the surface, updating these outlets can actually be a very involved process and can get pricey very quickly. To help decide if updating is the right move for you, I wanted to do a quick post about the differences and the options available if you currently have two prong outlets.
Two Prong Outlets are less safe
The difference in a two prong outlet and three prong outlet is that a three prong outlet has a ground wire, whereas a two prong outlet does not. Without having this ground wire, two prong outlets are subject to surges in power and could lead to the user (you) being shocked in some scenarios.
The ground wire that is added on a three prong outlet serves as a path directly back to your electric panel. In the event of a loose connection at the outlet or a sudden surge (such as a lightning strike) it will cause the breaker in your panel to trip, protecting both people and electronic equipment such as computers or cell phones that may be plugged in at the time.
What are the benefits?
Updating the outlets in your home will mean that electronics and other devices that are plugged in will be safe in the event of a power surge. Even if you are currently using a surge protector, most rely on the ground to properly protect your electronics.
Additionally, any outlet that has a wire come loose in the back will trip the breaker, keeping you safe rather than giving you the potential of being shocked when you touch the outlet.
How is it done?
To properly ground the outlets in your home, you will need to pull new wires from your existing electric panel to the outlets. This process can be very involved and will likely require cutting into walls, drilling new holes, and replacing the outlets. But, this is the only way to truly ensure the outlets in your home are grounded and will protect both you and anything you have plugged into them.
There are alternatives to rewiring all of the existing outlets in your home, but they come with some tradeoffs.
1) The first alternative is to use GFCI outlets or GFCI breakers to protect the entire circuit. This will allow for all of the outlets to be safely replaced with three prong type but will only protect people from being shocked by the outlets, leaving your electronics unprotected in the event of a power surge.
2) The second alternative is a combination of the first alternative and the proper method of pulling new ground wires. For this, you would rewire any outlets that you know will be used for plugging in sensitive electronic devices, while using GFCI outlets/breakers to protect people from being shocked by any other outlets that aren't going to be rewired.
So, should you update your outlets?
A friend of mine in St. Louis recently had a large lightning hit a cable box near his home. At the time his home was wired with the old style two prong outlets and he was using adapters to plug in everything. When the lightning strike occurred, it caused a power surge which fried his laptop, playstation, and two televisions that he had plugged in at the time (thousands in damage).
So while it may not be in your budget to replace every outlet in your home at this time, I would highly recommend at least getting an estimate to replace any outlets where you will have expensive electronics plugged in regularly.
Schedule a free consultation to discuss your needs
If you are in the DC area and would like to schedule a free consultation to discuss replacing your outlets (or any other electrical issue), just use the link below.