I’m not an electrician, and my understanding of the Code is admittedly flimsy, but I believe that it’s illegal to use 3-prong grounding receptacles on 2-wire circuts (which is the arrangement that exists in most of the rooms in our house). I’m also fuzzy about whether doing any work at all, even to just replace outlets and ground them, requires that I replace the wiring with proper 3-wire, such as Romex. That uncertainty not withstanding, I’ve decided to take it upon myself to begin improving the situation by replacing all of the open ground receptacles with new receptacles and ground them to the box. Thankfully, Chicago has long required solid metal conduit, which ought to provide the ground, though I’m finding that there just isn’t a ground wire at all in many of the boxes. I suspect that someone came along 20-years ago and replaced the 2-prong outlets with 3-prong grounded outlets, and just didn’t ground them. In the worst-case scenario, where a ground wire to the box still doesn’t effectively ground the receptacle, my plan is to install a 3-prong GFCI outlet (which I understand will need to be labeled No Equipment Ground on the cover plate).
To make sure I don’t mess up too badly, I’ve been reading up on residential wiring, and have watched quite a few videos on how to replace outlets. One of the best videos I’ve found was by Joseph Matson, a 35-year union electrician. He mostly does woodworking videos, but his video on how to install an electrical outlet is absolutely top notch.
I found the use of tails out from the receptacle to be genius. Sure, it adds some bulk, but the advantage of giving current a means of bypassing the receptacle obviously outweighs the nuisance of stuffing a few extra inches of wire and some wire nuts into the box.
The only thing I wished he addressed in the video is the final touch of wrapping of the outlet in elecrical tape to cover the terminal screws. I still do this because this is how I was taught decades ago by my electrician uncle. I understand that it was used more when metal boxes were standard, to prevent the terminal screws from coming into contact with the side of the box, but I feel it’s still a neat way to tidy up at the end.
Mr. Matson also has a tutorial on how to install a single pole electrical switch, and replacing a few of the light switches may become my next project. (I’m partial to those switches that firmly snap into one position or another with a near-silent thwap.)
I happen to have two rolls of electrical tape and a handful of receptacles and solidly thwapping switches laying around, so all I really need is some 6-inch lengths of 12 AWG wire for the ground wire and some 1032 ground screws. But as long as I’m shopping, I may as well stock the larder and also get some tough-looking lineman’s pliers like Joe uses.
My Home Depot shopping list:
Irwin 9.5 in. North American Lineman’s Pliers $16.57
Ideal Green 12 AWG Solid Pigtails with Screws (5-Pack) $2.97
Southwire Romex SIMpull 25 ft. 12-2 NM-B Wire $16.44
Ideal 76B Red Wire Nuts (100-Pack) $7.98