Replacing old outlets


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Old 04-30-17, 08:33 AM
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Replacing old outlets

I recently moved into an old apartment building with primarily two pronged outlets. Obviously, this won't do. There are a few outlets that have been switched to the 3 prong but I'm getting strange readings on my tester. Initially I was getting a Hot/Neutral reverse. Pulled the cover plate off of one outlet and it looks like all the wires are white. I could see how they got reversed. I need to get a tester for the box but near as I can tell, the boxes are grounded. I can see a copper wire coming out of the back and clamped to the box.

What I thought was going to be a simple fix possibly turned into a much worse problem or not. After discovering the above, I plugged my tester into the remaining 3 prong outlets and got the same Hot/Neutral reverse until I hit the last outlet. When I plugged my tester in, there was a brief spark and now it reads open ground. In fact, all the outlets now read open ground. For reference, my tester is one of those cheap ones with 3 lights (one red, two yellow). So either I screwed something up or the red light blew. All the outlets still work when plugging in a charger and phone to see if it charges.

My landlady may or may not cooperate with me on this depending on what would be involved. So what do you guys think, simple fix or gutting the house?
 
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Old 04-30-17, 10:26 AM
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If you don't own it, if you aren't licensed and if your landlady won't fix it your only good alternative is to hire an electrician. For reasons of liability you shouldn't touch the wiring.
 
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Old 04-30-17, 11:32 AM
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I still need to know what the problem is so I can explain it to her. She's not going to give me permission to do anything if I can't tell her what's going on.
 
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Old 04-30-17, 06:35 PM
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Even if she gives you permission, you are not licensed to do electrical work and a home that is not yours. There is a liability issue here.

Someplace in the circuit the hot and neutral wires are connected to the wrong wires, wrong place on a device, or connected to the wrong place at the panel. The only way to fix is to start taking things apart and test with a meter until you find where it is wrong.

The grounded receptacles (3 prong) are likely also not wired correctly. They should also be taken apart to see if they are properly grounded. It very well could be a bootlegged ground where the ground is connected to the neutral

The one that sparked could easily had all of the above issues. That should also be taken apart and tested with a meter.
 
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Old 05-01-17, 11:48 AM
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For the sake of argument, let's say I do nothing. If my landlady doesn't want to fix anything, what happens when I plug in all of my electronic devices? Do they explode, do I die or is everything fine?
 
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Old 05-01-17, 01:32 PM
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Your best option is to look for a new apartment if you are not comfortable living there.
 

Last edited by ray2047; 05-02-17 at 01:24 AM.
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Old 05-01-17, 01:47 PM
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Those plug-in testers cannot tell the difference between a real "open ground" and a "hot/neutral reverse". Those readings can essentially be seen as interchangeable in this case. Given that you have an old building with 2 prong receptacles, the probability in my opinion is that these are actually ungrounded circuits. A more complex testing procedure would be needed to know for certain.

Assuming these are actually ungrounded circuits, it's not the end of the world but appliances with 3-prong plugs are somewhat less safe given that exposed metal surfaces could potentially become energized in the event of an appliance malfunction. The other concern is that surge protectors have no effect on ungrounded circuits, although to be fair, point-of-use surge protectors don't really do that much on grounded circuits either. Some appliances like microwave ovens or fluorescent lighting fixtures should technically not be used on ungrounded circuits per the manufacturer instructions requiring the ground.

Code allows for a few remediations in old buildings. The first and by far cheapest is to add GFCI protection to these circuits. Then the 2-prong receptacles can legally be replaced with specially-labeled 3-prong receptacles as the GFCI provides the shock protection in place of the ground wire. This method does not do anything to protect the equipment from surges, but does protect the people in the scenario I described above. The other legal remediation is to install a retrofit ground wire to each effected device, back to the panel where the circuit originates. The complexity and cost depends heavily on the construction of the building.

Some common "hack" repairs that are NOT legal and actually make the system less safe are: grounding to water pipes, install a ground rod to the earth or bootleg jumping the ground and neutral terminals on the receptacle.
 
 

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