Dealing with old romex with no ground conductor

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Old 09-30-17, 07:31 PM
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Dealing with old romex with no ground conductor

I have an older house dated back to 1950s where the wiring was done in clothed romex with only two conductors (no ground).

At some point the property had a renovation, and the newly renovated areas (kitchen, garage and bathrooms) have been rewired properly with EMT acting as EGC.

But the original bedrooms, and a living room are still wired poorly. By poorly I mean whenever I open up a metal box for a receptacle, I see the white neutral conductor from the cloth romex inside the box with a short section of the insulation removed, and wrapped around the metal box's grounding screw before connecting to the receptacle's neutral screw.

I understand lack of a complete rewire job, my best option is to identify the few circuits wired this way, and install GFCI receptacles instead. If I can find the first receptacle in a series easily, I can just install the GFCI there and the downstream receptacles would be protected.

So please look over my plan of attack.

(1) Identify the circuits still wired with those old clothed romex and all the receptacles and switch boxes.
(2) Open all of these boxes up and disconnect the neutral conductor from the ground screw on each metal box. Slide on a short piece of white heat shrink tubing onto the short exposed section of the neutral and repair the insulation.
(3) For each receptacle on the same circuit, find the most upstream receptacle, replace it with a GFCI receptacle, and move the downstream conductors to the load side of the GFCI. I don't know if there is an easy way to find the most upstream receptacle other than trying to disconnect each one and see what happens at the other receptacles? Is there?
(4) Find the switch boxes and junction boxes and if the neutral conductors for those circuits are connected to the box disconnect them.

Now, instead of using GFCI receptacles, what if I changed the breakers for those to GFCI breakers? Would that be less work? I still need to open up every box right?
 
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Old 09-30-17, 08:27 PM
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The plan is good. Yes you can use GFCI breakers or dual-function GFCI/CAFCI breakers for less hunt-and-peck work trying to find the proper location for the GFCI receptacles. You also could get the added benefit of AFCI protection on those circuits too. You still need to open all of the boxes to find and repair any of the bootleg grounds.
 
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Old 09-30-17, 08:46 PM
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You still need to open all of the boxes to find and repair any of the bootleg grounds.
That's the biggest pain in the *ss to the whole job.
 
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Old 10-01-17, 06:39 AM
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Thank you ibpooks. Yes I think using GFCI/AFCI will save me the time to find the first receptacle.

I ran into one minor issue. For a switch, I found out they used a three wire cloth romex. It has a black, a red and a white conductor. The black and red are used for the switch leg. The white on the switch box is bonded to the ground screw, while on the other end is pigtailed with the other neutral conductors.

I am trying to decide what is the best thing to do here.

I can disconnect the white conductor from the ground screw at the switch box, and unbundle the other end from the neutral pigtail and cap both ends.

Or I can leave the ground screw connection at the switch box, remove the other end from the neutral pigtail and connect that end to the ground screw there, providing ground continuity between the switch box and that junction box, and tape the white conductor green to indicate the re-purpose. But it's not really helping anything if there is no continuity from that box back to the panel. It may be worse because if someone were to just open that box in the future it would give the false impression?
 
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Old 10-01-17, 06:45 AM
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PJmax, yes that is a real pain.

Not only that, I have to undo the pigtail in each box. These are not wire nuts that you just back out and untangle. These are solid copper conductors crimped together tight, then a soft rubber cap placed on the crimped connection, then a round ring is tightened on the rubber cap. I have to cut the conductors shorter to undo that. In one or two cases I don't have enough conductor length in the box to remake the connection.
 
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Old 10-01-17, 11:38 AM
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Use wire nuts with built in pigtails to lengthen the wires.
 
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Old 10-01-17, 03:46 PM
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You can usually uncrimp those with a good set of linesman pliers that have long handles for leverage. Cut down the barrel longways with the dykes and if you line if up right you can cut right between two of the wires or just snip a corner of the barrel off. You might need a little work with a flat screwdriver or side cutter to fully remove the crimp, but I'd say it works about 80% of the time.
 
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Old 10-01-17, 10:52 PM
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ray2047 those wire nut pig tail extensions seems to be very useful. But a quick search seems to indicate that it has been discontinued by Ideal?
 
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Old 10-02-17, 12:01 AM
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Old 10-02-17, 06:34 AM
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Ray, I sent an email off to Ideal and will see what they say.
the link you referenced is the same I saw earlier. It's there Canadian website. I couldn't find same item anywhere else. Many online suppliers who carry them have it listed as "discontinued" or "out of stock".
 
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Old 10-03-17, 06:33 AM
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I have another related situation.

For this room I hunted down the first receptacle and reworked all the downstream boxes so it's OK there.

However before it reaches the first receptacle box, there is another switch box upstream of it, where there is a pigtail, one runs to the ceiling fixture, and one runs to a switch box to a closet light. Again both are using old 2 wire cloth romex with no ground.

Is there anything I can do to remedy this?

Use a GFCI breaker for the entire circuit?

I already have plastic face plates for all the switches, but metal screws. Do they have plastic screws for face plates?
 
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Old 10-03-17, 01:48 PM
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You could use a GFCI breaker. You could replace the first switch with a combo GFCI/switch device, although in old boxes you might not have enough room for the larger device plus the wiring. You could cut out the switch box and replace it with a 2-gang, GFCI on one side, switch on the other.

Metal face plate screws are OK. GFCI protection significantly reduces the shock potential for ungrounded circuits.
 
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Old 10-09-17, 08:20 PM
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OK, after I opened all the affected receptacles and switch boxes, I am leaning not to use GFCI breakers to protect those circuits for a number of reasons. The main one being that most of my breakers are thinner GE half size breakers, and the GFCI breakers are full size, in order to make it work I would need to move around a bunch of breakers, which means their existing labels and designations on the back of the cover plates are going to need the relabeling.

Using GFCI receptacles turn out to be a challenge as well.

First of all, some of the circuits are for lighting and receptacles, and there isn't always a receptacle conveniently at the most upstream pigtail.

Secondly, as ibpooks stated, some of the boxes I need to insert a GFCI receptacle at are one device metal handy boxes and the existing wiring in there are not going to have room for a larger GFCI receptacle.

Thirdly, I found in two cases the wiring runs to a ceiling box first then it goes to other receptacles and switch loops...well, I can't put a GFCI receptacle in a ceiling box where I need a light or a ceiling fan.

So I am wondering what you guys think of this idea...

All the wiring runs from the panel up into the space above the ceiling. What if I cut open the wall below the panel. If I have five circuits that needs the GFCI protection, I open up a hole for a five gang box. I then mount a five gang box right below the panel, may be connect them with a number of short 3/4" EMT conduits. Then for each circuit I mount one GFCI receptacle in this multi gang box. I run the conductors for that circuit from the breaker down to the receptacle line side, then run it back up from the load side to the original wiring that runs up. Five circuits, five GFCI receptacles side by side right below the panel. All together in one place.

That should work. I don't know if it would look really weird.
 

Last edited by MiamiCuse; 10-09-17 at 09:56 PM.
 

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