Electrical devices are “grounded” when they connect to grounding devices for safety reasons. Grounding provides a safe “path of least resistance” for stray voltage to follow. Grounding systems direct stray voltage into the ground where it discharges safely instead of building up in places where it will be dangerous.
Without grounding, power surges or equipment damage could render electrical circuits dangerous or destructive. They could damage attached electrical appliances, shock nearby people, or even start fires. Grounding is an important safety feature for any structure’s electrical system. In fact, electrical codes require it for all new construction. Here’s what you should know about electrical grounding and why you need it:
How does electrical grounding work?
Electrical circuits usually contain three wires: a “hot” wire, a “neutral” wire, and a grounding wire. The hot wire contains the active voltage that powers electrical fixtures. Active voltage is negatively charged. Negatively-charged electricity naturally seeks to discharge its negative energy to return to a state of neutral ground. To do that, it passes through the neutral wire and returns to the main service panel’s positive charge. When circuits are complete, negative charges flow through the hot wire and return to ground through the neutral wire. If everything is working correctly, the grounding wire never comes into play.
Unfortunately, however, circuits can break or malfunction just like everything else. When wires in a circuit are damaged or broken, electricity could stray out of the system and into other materials. Depending on where the current flows, it could shock you, damage something, or start a fire. Grounding wires prevent that from happening. Voltage always follows the path of least resistance when seeking neutrality, even when it leaves the closed-circuit system. Grounding wires provide this path of least resistance. They connect to a grounding bar in the ground beneath your circuit. When stray voltage leaps from the system, the grounding wire “catches” it and transfers it to the ground where it can’t hurt you.
Why is electrical grounding important?
Grounding electrical circuits is a very important safety procedure. Grounding helps protect you and your home from the dangers of damaged circuits or electrical overloads. When power surges happen, the excess electricity introduced to the system could leap out of the wiring. Without electrical grounding, this stray voltage could start a fire, damage appliances, or shock bystanders.
Proper grounding will protect your home’s electrical system even in case of a massive power surge or lightning strike. Grounding prevents voltage from arcing to other conductive materials such as water and metal, where it could hurt you. Grounding wires also prevent voltage from overloading and damaging your appliances, which will help them last longer and function better. Overall, grounding is one of the most important safety measures protecting contemporary home electrical systems.
How can I tell if my circuits are grounded?
It can be difficult to know if your home is properly grounded without a circuit tester or professional inspection. There are a couple of things to look for that will give you an idea, however. First of all: do your outlets have two prongs or three? The lower, third prong of an outlet connects to the ground wire. If your home has any two-pronged outlets, they represent electrical circuits that aren’t grounded. If you have two-pronged outlets, upgrade them to GFCIs ASAP.
Even if each of your outlets has three prongs, you may still not have effective grounding. Sometimes, homes that were once grounded now have ineffective grounding because of damage or wiring mistakes. Homes built in the 50s and 60s often have no grounding or ineffective grounding, even if they have three-prong outlets. If you want to know if your home is grounded for sure, invest in a home circuit tester or schedule an inspection.
What should I do if my circuits are not grounded?
Your best option would be to call an electrician to install grounding immediately. Early Bird’s experts can rewire your whole home to include safe, up-to-code grounding in each of your circuits. If you don’t want to rewire your home for grounding, you should at least replace two-prong outlets with GFCIs.
GFCIs, or “ground fault circuit interrupters,” can provide you a level of protection even without grounding. These outlets automatically interrupt the flow of electricity when they sense a shock, fire, or damage hazard. You should have GFCI outlets in your home’s kitchen and bathrooms whether you’ve grounded your home or not! GFCI outlets won’t protect your appliances as effectively as grounding, but they will help protect you.
Whether you want to install grounding, replace two-pronged outlets with GFCIs, or you have another electrical question, get in touch with Early Bird Electric any time. Our licensed and experienced experts are your go-to for any and all electrical problems. We want to help make sure your home is safe.