Knowing and understanding what a ground wire is and why it matters is incredibly important. You don’t have to be an electrical expert, but you should understand some of the basics about your home wiring and safety, especially if electrical work needs to be done in your home.
Ground Wire and Electrical Safety Basics
You’re probably familiar with the term ground wire, but you may not be familiar with their purpose and how they help keep your home safe.
A grounding wire is a safety measure to prevent a house fire or an electric shock if there is excess electricity in the wiring system. Ground wires run parallel to other wires in order to safely discharge excess electricity into the ground.
If something were to short circuit, the ground wire would be the alternate pathway to stop the flow of electricity.
What is the Purpose of a Ground Wire?
The purpose of a ground wire is to safely direct excess electricity from your home into the ground. Electricity works to eliminate the negative currents from an electrical system in order to return to equilibrium. Under typical circumstances, neutral wires lead the way for currents returning to the breaker panel to restore equilibrium.
However, if an issue arises in the normal process of electrical flow, energy can be passed to other parts of your home, such as pipes or wood framing, increasing the likelihood of a house fire or shock. This is an example of a short circuit.
Ground wiring is there to prevent this and to allow currents to escape through it, rather than through other parts of your home that can cause damage or harm to your home and family.
Ground Wires: The Electrical Shock Absorber
An electrical current needs to find a pathway to the ground in order to neutralize. Electrical ground wires provide a safe pathway, acting as an absorber for the electrical shock.
Large electrical surges can occur when there are lightning strikes or system malfunctions, but it’s not uncommon for a home to have smaller power surges throughout the day. It is common for this to occur when you use many devices in your home at once, especially larger appliances.
If your home has ground wires, that electric energy escapes safely. If it does not have proper grounding wires, electricity can travel to dangerous places in your home. This can lead to damage to your appliances. Electricity can also escape through other pathways such as your home’s structure, potentially causing electrical fires.
In the worst-case scenario, that excess electrical energy can travel through you. When you get an electric shock, the outcome can be devastating. Electric shock can cause severe damage to your body and even death, depending on the amount of electricity.
How to Check if Your Outlets Are Grounded
You can identify grounded and ungrounded outlets by simply looking at them. An outlet connected to a ground wire has two parallel slots for your device and an additional d-shaped slot directly in the middle below them. If your outlet is missing that d-shaped slot then it is not connected to a ground wire.
Most newer homes have the proper electrical grounding to every outlet. However, if you own an older home, you could have outlets without connection to a ground wire.
To ensure that your home has the proper ground wiring, call U.S. Electric. We have over thirty years of experience keeping families’ homes safe. Our owner is a master electrician, and every service you receive from us is guaranteed.
Grounding Plug-In Devices and Appliances
Appliances with a third prong that goes into the central third slot in an outlet have a safety feature to allow the excess electrical energy to travel through that third ground wire if it were to short circuit. For all major appliances, this is standard. Smaller appliances such as curling irons or cell phones don’t typically have an extra plug-in slot for the grounding wire.
Homes that do not have outlets connected to a ground wire will not work with three-pronged plugs. If you replace three-prong plugs with two-prong plugs for large appliances, your appliance is no longer safe if there were to be a short circuit.
When you use an appliance with that third prong, any excess electrical energy will escape through the ground wire rather than creating a dangerous electrical current.
What Are Circuit Breakers?
A circuit breaker is an electrical switch that has the purpose of protecting your home’s electrical system in the instance of a short circuit or excess electricity. When a problem occurs with the usual flow of electricity, a circuit breaker will stop it. You can then reset the circuit breaker, and the electrical flow should return to normal.
Circuit breakers and ground wires are related because when a short circuit or electric overload occurs, the grounding wire will assist in tripping the circuit breaker. Circuit breakers and ground wires work together to discharge excess electricity from the home, while simultaneously preventing more electricity from overloading the system.