Changing a Two Prong Outlet To 3 Prong GFCI Outlet without Electrocuting Yourself

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Although home electrical repair can be daunting, most homeowners can change an old two prong outlet to a three prong version.

At one time most home appliances from hair dryers to vacuums had only two prongs. Today we have computers, large televisions, and more electrical appliances than you can shake a stick at; most have three prongs. This can be pretty annoying when you live in an older home that has not been updated to accept three prong (grounded) plugs.

There are adapters that exist and are not too hard to use. Many may be familiar with these adapters, most are gray in color with a small metal tab that is attached to the outlet cover with the existing outlet screw. This provides a grounding point for the extra slot, also known as a 'grounding pin'. While use of adapters is one option, it does not provide a permanent solution to the two prong outlet. Adapters can break if moved often and do not provide a safe alternative if there are small children in a home.

What is a homeowner to do? The best option is to completely change the outlet to a permanent three prong grounded outlet. This is not a huge nor very difficult project. As with any electrical project, care must be used at all times to prevent any injury. If you are at all in doubt, please use a professional to install the new outlets.

Change A 2 Prong Outlet To 3 Prong GFCI Outlet

The first step to changing the outlet is to find out if the original outlet has a grounding path or not. A tester is available at most hardware stores- the neon voltage tester. Basically, the tester is two insulated wires that run into a pen-like plastic tube with a very small neon light at the tip. If the light is activated the path is grounded. If not, the path is not grounded or has been interrupted by rust or other problems.

If the light does not activate:

You can replace the outlet with what is called a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet. These can be purchased at many hardware stores, including mass merchandisers like Home Depot or Lowe's. The GFCI outlet can be placed in any outlet except one with one of the very old wiring systems that have bare wires extruding from tubes. If you find this type of system, call an electrician. The outlet comes with everything needed to install. The power to the outlet must be turned off at the power box/panel before installing.

This is accomplished by having a lamp plugged into the outlet and a friend to let you know when the lamp goes off on it's own...or by plugging a radio into the outlet and turned up loud enough to hear while at the power panel, if you are alone.

  • Once the power supply is cut off, remove the cover to the outlet, then pull it forward.
  • Remove the two wires from the back of the outlet, taking note of which wire is attached where. Most are black and white.
  • Attach the wires to the GFCI outlet, push into the wall.
  • Place the cover on and screw in.
  • Once finished place a sticker on the outlet- one should come in the box- that says 'No Equipment Ground'.

Some areas do not allow the GFCI outlets, though the National Electric Code does allow them to be installed. Check local building codes before installing any GFCI outlets.

Always Test the Installation

Whenever you do a DIY electrical project always test it to make sure there are no problems:

  • Switch on the breaker
  • Press the test button on the receptacle.
  • Plug in a radio or lamp. Turn it on. It should go on. If it it doesn't try pushing the reset button.
  • Press the Test switch on the receptacle. The power should go off.
  • Press the reset button and the power should come back on.

It is important to test a GFCI outlet once a month for the greatest safety benefits.

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Comments 7 comments

ShootersCenter profile image

ShootersCenter 4 years ago from Florida

Most two prong outlets were installed before wiring had grounds in the romex, changing it over to a three prong without changing the wire isn't safe and is against the NEC(national electric code). Before making these changes I'd suggest consulting a local electrical contractor.


Sandy Jay profile image

Sandy Jay 5 years ago from Dallas, TX

I wish everyone would take the time t o check theur GFCI outlets to make sure they work. They save lives.


shanel profile image

shanel 6 years ago from Seattle

You did a great job giving step by step installation directions. Nice Hub.


Jessica Horn profile image

Jessica Horn 7 years ago

This issue comes up all the time when inspectors inspect older houses. The new buyer is told it's a safety issue, but the seller never wants to fix it, and things like that can cause deals to fall apart!

Thanks for providing a solution that will help prevent a deal from falling apart!


Artemus Gordon profile image

Artemus Gordon 7 years ago

My house is full of the old two prong so I use those adaptors on them all for my electronics. I was just a little hesitant to mess around with electrical stuff since I am no too handy.


J Burgraff profile image

J Burgraff 7 years ago

I have a bunch of old outlets that I need to change. Thank you for this hub!


GiftedGrandma profile image

GiftedGrandma 7 years ago from USA

My dear hubby is really good at doing things like this :O)

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