What Is a Ground Wire & Do I Need One?

Over the years, we have learned a lot about electricity. We have learned how it behaves, how to contain it, how to make it more reliable, how it interacts with our lives, and (perhaps most importantly) how to make it safer. In its earliest days, electricity caused a ton of injuries and fires each and every year. However, today we see very few fires or injuries due to faulty equipment or dangerous conditions. This is largely due to a number of advancements in safety technology.

Perhaps one of the single greatest advancements in electrical technology was the invention of the ground wire. While most people may have heard of a ground wire in their electrical system, few actually know what it is, what it does, or why it’s so important. This blog will change that. Read on to learn more about this crucial safety feature for your home.

What Is a Ground Wire?

To put it simply, the ground wire is the third wire that is connected to every electrical outlet in your home. Most people know of the two wires that make outlets work—the white “hot” wire and the brown, black, or gray-colored “neutral” wire. These are the two different wires that both need to be connected to your outlet in order to create a completed circuit. However, the ground wire is usually either completely unshielded (exposed copper) or green in color. You’ll typically see this running from the bottom of your outlet.

How Does a Ground Wire Work?

To many people, a ground wire seems like a waste of time. This is because, under normal circumstances, a ground wire will never carry any current or voltage whatsoever. It’ll just sit there, completely idle, and the rest of your electrical system will never have anything to do with it. However, in the event of a ground fault, or a short. When electrical energy has a way of either returning to its source or going to ground through a path of lower resistance than the path you want it to, this is known as a short, and can be extremely dangerous. For example, if a live electrical wire is dropped into water, this creates a short where the energy can quickly flow to the ground. In this case, the current would then flow through to the ground wire, which is extremely low resistance, giving it an alternate path back to the source. This prevents the live wire from continuing to short circuit on the wet ground.

Why Are Ground Wires Important?

Ground wires are important because they provide a critical safety outlet for electrical systems. Should a hot wire (the white wire) accidentally touch on a piece of grounded metal somewhere in your electrical outlet, such as the outlet receptacle itself, then the energy will be redirected to the ground wire. This will close the circuit and prevent potentially serious injuries or devastating damage to your home. This safety feature is so important that proper ground wires are now required under virtually all electrical codes across the country.

However, not all outlets or features are properly grounded. In fact, in some cases, people who attempt DIY repairs will often take a shortcut and skip proper grounding, as it can take extra time and effort to do correctly. For example, if you pull an outlet out of the wall and you notice that the ground wire appears to be simply connected to something like a nail pushed into one of the studs inside your wall, then your outlet is not properly grounded, and therefore is not properly protected. In the event of a ground fault, the energy will not have the additional avenue to go back to the source, and thus the outlet will be far more prone to damage or potentially dangerous consequences.

Does My Home Have a Ground Wire?

The short answer to this: probably. Ground wires have been a standard part of building codes since the 1960s. If your home was built in 1969 or later, there’s a good chance it was wired with proper grounding when it was first constructed. However, not all homes were built after this point, and quite a few homes may still have outdated electrical components in them today. If you have a home built in the 1950s or earlier, you might not have proper grounding installed.

There is a pretty easy way to tell if your home has proper grounding: take a look at your outlets. If your outlets have only two prong slots, then that outlet is not ground protected. In this case, you should have one installed by a skilled electrician to update your wiring and keep you safe. However, having a hole in your outlets for a ground prong also does not guarantee that your outlet is grounded. Unless you know your electrical system has been modernized, we recommend having all older electrical systems regularly inspected for safety.

Schedule an electrical inspection by calling Lightning Bug Electric at (404) 471-3847 today!