The difference between two-prong and three-prong outlets

We often speak with clients who are concerned about their two-prong electrical outlets. Having two-prong outlets instead of three-prong ones usually means that the home isn’t properly grounded to modern standards.

Is this something you should be panicked about? Does it mean you have to rewire your entire home immediately? Not exactly. There are some things you should keep in mind if you have two-prong outlets, though.

Grounding 101

Since the 1960s, a grounding system has been required in residential wiring. It provides safety to residents and stability to the overall electrical system. The grounding system is a separate system of wiring integrated into your electrical system, and it terminates into the Earth (typically through a ground rod). The grounding system serves two main purposes:

1. Safety: It removes dangerous levels of voltage if there’s an equipment failure or system disruption, sending that high voltage into the Earth instead of through your electrical system (or your body).

2. Overvoltage protection: If higher voltage enters an electrical system (such as from utility lines touching, lightning strikes, or power surges), grounding provides an alternative path which will minimize damage to the electrical system and connected appliances.

The third prong you see in some outlets grounds your home’s electrical system to the Earth, protecting you and your home.

Can’t I just replace them with three-prong outlets myself?

We do not recommend this. Simply replacing the two-prong outlets with three-prong outlets will most likely not properly ground those outlets. If your home wasn’t wired with a grounding system, you’re actually creating a false sense of security and potential shock hazard.

If you were to plug a faulty corded device into one of these incorrectly grounded three-prong outlets, you would receive an electrical shock. You would become the grounding system instead of the Earth, and that is definitely as dangerous as it sounds.

Is it safe to use my current two-prong outlets?

Ultimately, it’s up to you. Grounding systems were introduced for good reason, but there’s no requirement that an existing home’s grounding system be corrected immediately. Most electrical contractors will tell you you’ll need to rewire your home immediately. We don’t want to scare you into spending your money, but it’s up to you as a homeowner to make an educated decision about your home.

Without a proper grounding system, you do run the risk of expensive electronics becoming damaged more easily due to voltage irregularities. We also see improper grounding come up as an issue during home inspections for sale or purchase of a home.

But if you want to make your current system work better for you, there are many options for adapters that can make your three-prong plugs work in two-prong outlets.

If your home has two-prong electrical outlets or you have any concerns over its grounding system, we are happy to consult with you on what options you can take for a permanent solution.

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