How to Use Electronics With Ungrounded Plugs

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Ungrounded, or two-pronged, cords might not be the most dangerous thing in your home. But you're wise to investigate how to properly use them, since doing otherwise could ultimately harm you or your electronics. The particular way to proceed will also depend on the how your home is wired -- whether it is in the modern or old-fashioned way.

Background

  • Some homes have the old two-prong outlets spread throughout the house or in just some rooms, as opposed to having outlets with a hole for the third prong. That third prong in cords really does mean a lot, because it's what sends any stray electrical current into the ground instead of into your electronics -- or into you, if you're touching them or the outlet. And while it's not necessarily a legal requirement -- nor an inexpensive feat -- to completely rewire the non-ground circuits in old homes from the proverbial halcyon days, there are adapters and circuit-protecting equipment you should consider, some of which can also benefit modern homes.

Circuit Interrupters

  • If your home does have some two-prong outlets, look to purchase products labeled as "GFCI" -- or ground-fault circuit interrupters. These could either be GFCI outlets or GFCI power strips. With these in place, the installed GFCI will detect any dangerous imbalances in the amount of current flowing and will quickly break the circuit when those imbalances occur. So think of GFCI devices as a sort of mobile circuit breaker, a miniature version of your home's circuit breaker box. Do not, however, attempt to install a non-GFCI three-prong outlet to replace an old two-prong outlet. It must be a GFCI outlet.

Plug Adapters

  • If your home is equipped with three-prong outlets, however, don't consider just buying a three-prong adapter -- or an adapter that accepts a two-prong plug on one side and then has a three-prong plug on the other -- thinking that this will be enough to create a ground. This wouldn't do the trick since your electronic device's cord itself doesn't have a ground wire that would connect to the grounded outlet via the adapter. In this case, then, your best bet would be to ensure that you plug your electronic device into the wall via a GFCI power strip.

Warning

  • If you notice that your device's two-pronged cord was once a three-pronged cord, but that someone had cut the third grounding prong from the cord, don't use it. Such a plug is a violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Electric Code. Not that you should expect to be inspected by OSHA as a mere homeowner. However, the fact that it's a violation in their book demonstrates that it's not a safe piece of equipment. Also, regarding GFCI power strips, don't confuse them with non-GFCI "surge protectors." They're not the same thing. A simple surge protector will not protect you or your equipment when plugged into a two-prong outlet.

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