Old wall wiring with no ground wire-Can I add a ground to the metal box?-Also Outlets are upside down

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vyacheslav

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Greetings,

I am going to be replacing some old outlets in a house I just recently purchased. The house was built in 1950. There is some updated wiring with modern Romex in the house (about 50%), the other half is the original wiring.

On the outlet (and switch) wiring that I will be replacing (all the existing switches are old, yellowed and really dirty) that do not have grounds, I have a basic (and probably dumb) question:

If the box in the wall that holds the outlet/switch is metal, can i run a short grounding wire, with one end connected to the box (with a short sheet metal screw) and the other end connected to the outlet/switch like normal?

Will this work? Is it safe? Is it a bad idea?

Also, on a side note,, some of the outlets and switches in the house are upside down. The polarized (larger) end of the outlet is on the right and the switch is "up" in the off position. Can I simply connect the outlet/switch and then turn it upside down afterwards, or should I "flip" the wires inside the box before I make the connection? Should I just leave it as is? I'm not sure how durable the original wiring is from 1950.

Thanks for your help!
 

Snoonyb

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1st, before you go any further, you need to determine what the wiring is, that is connected to the outlet boxes, IE. is it romex, bx, conduit or metallic flex?

Because, even in the 1950, some groups of conductors, also contained a small gauge grnd. conductor.

BX, conduit and metallic flex, may act as a grnd. when proven to connect to a known grnd, such as the main service panel.

There are any # of these at virtually any hdwr outlet; RACO Green Ground Screw, Slotted (10 per Bag)-8973-1 - The Home Depot

Switches don't care if they are up or down.

A simple rule for receptacles; with the recep. facing you, and the grnd. stake is down, the hot conductor connects on the right side, and no matter how you roll the recep. that rule is consistent.
 
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bud16415

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I will add that running a short ground wire to a metal box will not make a ground unless the box is grounded somehow back to the ground screw in the panel. In the 50s you likely don’t have knob and tube wiring where the sheathing around the wires is a cloth insulation. Sounds like your home was built in between K&T and wiring requiring a ground.



The simplest solution is to replace the outlets with GFCI outlets and that will bring them to modern code. If you can figure out if say the power comes to one outlet first and then that outlet feed another and so on only the first outlet would need to be a GFCI outlet it would be powered off of the line connections and the next one would be powered off the load. They then have stickers you place on the switch plate of all the rest that say it is GFCI protected up stream.



It is also possible to use the load side of a GFCI outlet to power a light circuit if the outlet is in the same box that the light switch circuit gets its power.



Flipping a switch or outlet over in the box is ok. Most residential wiring has down as off and up as on and outlets are normally placed with the ground plug to the bottom.

Has your service panel been updated from the fuses it likely had in the 50s?
 

Sparky617

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My industrial electrician dad would always install the outlets "upside down" with the ground at the top. You will see them this way often in commercial, institutional, and industrial settings with metal cover plates. The logic is if the screw holding the the cover plate came out the cover plate could drop down on top of a plug in the outlet it would hit the ground pin and stop. If the outlet is installed ground down the metal plate would short out across the hot and the neutral. In residential construction with plastic cover plates not a huge concern and most right angle plugs are designed for the ground on the bottom.
 

bud16415

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My industrial electrician dad would always install the outlets "upside down" with the ground at the top. You will see them this way often in commercial, institutional, and industrial settings with metal cover plates. The logic is if the screw holding the the cover plate came out the cover plate could drop down on top of a plug in the outlet it would hit the ground pin and stop. If the outlet is installed ground down the metal plate would short out across the hot and the neutral. In residential construction with plastic cover plates not a huge concern and most right angle plugs are designed for the ground on the bottom.
I have noticed a lot of time 20a outlets will be put in ground up and those are mostly industrial type locations. My old house I installed all the boxes going sideways when I moved them out of the floor where they were put when electricity came in. the house was fieldstone foundation with a massive beam all around the top that the house sat on. It was a real pain getting wires into those walls I see why they put them in the floors.
 

vyacheslav

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Thanks for the replies. Yes, the Fuse Box/breaker panel has been updated so the breakers are the "flip" on/off kind as opposed to the screw in fuse kind. The curious thing is (and the inspector noted this) that there is no main on/off at the circuit breaker panel itself (or outside). Strange.

The old wiring in the house is the rope style covered with tar (May not be exact but that's the style of wiring). In that case the hot and neutral are the same color (black). I plan on wrapping the hot wire with orange electrical tape to signify that it is hot at each switch/outlet. I know that type of wire is not nearly as durable as Romex. I am cautious as to flipping the switches or outlets around, or the wires themselves in the box before connecting, as I don't want them to break. I am also going to take a picture of each outlet/switch BEFORE I disconnect it, so I can reference which wire goes where, based on the position of the switch/outlet in the wall.
 

bud16415

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I think you need to get a pro in and address the lack of a main disconnect first thing. I’m surprised the inspector didn’t press harder than just noting this. I would get that straightened out before you moved on. We have several pros here that will check in and maybe want some photos of the main panel and what feeds it from outside. If I understand correctly you would need to pull your meter to safely work behind your main panel?



Are the individual wires you are talking about plastic coated or what you described that reminds me more of K&T wires. Those are very brittle in the insulation and also the copper gets brittle going back that far. you may be at the point where some or all should be replaced. When I did my first house the ceilings were plastered with a circular swirl pattern with center lights and there was no way to get to those fixtures without messing the ceilings up. I replaced everything right up to the switch and then left that little bit of the old wire to save the ceilings. K&T is not unsafe the wires are run a foot away from each other.
 

Snoonyb

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papakevin

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So, this is not the correct way to add a ground, but I have seen this done in an older house on circuits with low amp loads (like a lamp, or clock) so you can install a newer outlet in an older system. You would need to find a properly grounded plug (likely a newly installed outlet), turn it off, plug in a long extension cord, then use a meter with one probe in the extension cord ground and the other probe to verify continuity to identify which wire is ground vs hot to properly wire up the ground jumper. Again, not the correct way and it is always best to add a true ground if you can.
 

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bud16415

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So, this is not the correct way to add a ground, but I have seen this done in an older house on circuits with low amp loads (like a lamp, or clock) so you can install a newer outlet in an older system. You would need to find a properly grounded plug (likely a newly installed outlet), turn it off, plug in a long extension cord, then use a meter with one probe in the extension cord ground and the other probe to verify continuity to identify which wire is ground vs hot to properly wire up the ground jumper. Again, not the correct way and it is always best to add a true ground if you can.
I would never do that. All that accomplishes is fooling a tester and if an inspector was to pull the cover plate and see that he would likely flip out on you.

It is so simple to go get a GFCI outlet and pop it in and do it correctly and you are only saving a couple bucks.
 

Sparky617

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I have noticed a lot of time 20a outlets will be put in ground up and those are mostly industrial type locations. My old house I installed all the boxes going sideways when I moved them out of the floor where they were put when electricity came in. the house was fieldstone foundation with a massive beam all around the top that the house sat on. It was a real pain getting wires into those walls I see why they put them in the floors.
You don't find 15amp outlets in industrial settings.
 

bud16415

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Dad always said it was due to metal cover plates, commonly used in both locations.
That sounds logical. I really don’t know how the convention came around but if it is good ground up it would seem logical they all be placed ground up.



I look at it when you are pulling or plugging in a 3 prong you place your thumb on top and your index finger on the bottom. If you were to have your index finger on the plug to far you could get shocked more likely there than at your thumb if the other way around.

I really don’t know most people don’t even think about it when they plug something in they just assume it is safe.
 

Sparky617

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That sounds logical. I really don’t know how the convention came around but if it is good ground up it would seem logical they all be placed ground up.



I look at it when you are pulling or plugging in a 3 prong you place your thumb on top and your index finger on the bottom. If you were to have your index finger on the plug to far you could get shocked more likely there than at your thumb if the other way around.

I really don’t know most people don’t even think about it when they plug something in they just assume it is safe.
I have several right angle extension cords, most are designed for ground down, some are designed for ground up. If you put a ground up plug in a ground down outlet the cord goes up and flops down rather than laying flat against the wall, the purpose of the right angle plug.
 

bud16415

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I have several right angle extension cords, most are designed for ground down, some are designed for ground up. If you put a ground up plug in a ground down outlet the cord goes up and flops down rather than laying flat against the wall, the purpose of the right angle plug.
Yep. That’s kind of a case of the design following the convention I would say. 99.9% of homes are wired ground down so no one would buy a cord that went the other way and wanted to pull itself out.

I wonder the ones you have ground up are they higher rated cords like would be used in a 20a outlet.
 

Sparky617

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Yep. That’s kind of a case of the design following the convention I would say. 99.9% of homes are wired ground down so no one would buy a cord that went the other way and wanted to pull itself out.

I wonder the ones you have ground up are they higher rated cords like would be used in a 20a outlet.
Bud,
It is a heavy duty cord, though it doesn't have a 20 amp plug on it. A 20 amp outlet/plug have one of the terminals at right angles to the other. In the picture linked below, Lowe's has it ground up. The other theory is the ground pin helps to hold the heavier cords in when it is up versus down.

 

bud16415

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Bud,
It is a heavy duty cord, though it doesn't have a 20 amp plug on it. A 20 amp outlet/plug have one of the terminals at right angles to the other. In the picture linked below, Lowe's has it ground up. The other theory is the ground pin helps to hold the heavier cords in when it is up versus down.

I see that. It is designed with the ground screw on the top also.



The sideway prong is to make sure you wont plug a 20a load into a 15a service. Does the other end of your cord have the sideways female slot?



https://www.homedepot.com/p/AC-WORKS-25-ft-12-3-SJTW-15-20-Amp-Household-NEMA-5-15-20-Indoor-Outdoor-Lighted-End-Anti-Cold-Weather-Extension-Cord-15-20AEX-025/303075097?source=shoppingads&locale=en-US&mtc=Shopping-B-F_D27E-G-D27E-027_003_EXTCORD_SURG-NA-NA-Feed-SMART-NA-NA-New_Engen&cm_mmc=Shopping-B-F_D27E-G-D27E-027_003_EXTCORD_SURG-NA-NA-Feed-SMART-NA-NA-New_Engen-71700000082263413-58700006984682165-92700062875450029&gclid=Cj0KCQjwkIGKBhCxARIsAINMioIIGDFms1f2I8I16AgRoHSsSxG4D0StGMsBDry8GFiMSw3DzePuGnEaAgpGEALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds
 

Sparky617

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The cord you linked does have the right angle prong. You can install a 15amp outlet on a 20 amp circuit, but not vice versa. In residential settings you don't find many 20amp devices, even in the kitchens and bathrooms that require 20 amp circuits I've never seen a 20 amp appliance that is plugged in. Even my large microwave has a 15 amp cord and a dedicated 20 amp circuit. I'd think a 120VAC window AC could be 20amp.

My limited number of large power tools (table saw, drill press, bench grinder, band saw, compound miter saw, air compressor) all operate on 15amps. I wouldn't recommend running several at the same time on one circuit.
 

Hamberg

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...The logic is if the screw holding the the cover plate came out the cover plate could drop down on top of a plug in the outlet it would hit the ground pin and stop...
@Sparky617 - that is the FIRST logical explanation I have EVER heard!!! I've had this argument a 100 times and the only answer I ever got was; "that is how I was taught."

My reply, and contention, has always been (in residential, which is what we do) the reason the ground is at the bottom is, the most likely case (for grounding) would be the room filling with water! Short (no pun intended) of your explanation about a metal cover plate, no one had ever given me a legit reply.
 

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