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Thanks for clarifying my thoughts, JT !!!

Posted by TomR on August 31st, 1998 12:57 AM
In reply to Grounds vs. GFCI? by JT on August 28th, 1998 05:57 PM [Go to top of thread]

In my attempt to shorten what was originally a really long-winded reply, I made assumptions that obviously other readers did not follow. Thanks JT, for your clarification.. That was precisely the point I was trying to drive home. Both GFCIís and a properly grounded house are necessary to maximize the protection to both the homeowner and home. GFCIís are an extension to safety system the grounding wire provides, not a replacement. I was also trying to make light of all the other variables which may come into play, and that only an onsite inspection by a qualified individual could sort them all out. I was not trying to spark a debate. Iím sorry.

I assumed, maybe incorrectly, that the house, if built in the Victorian era, had a fuse panel (not breaker), and much of the house probably still contained knob-and-tube wiring. Well, the fuse panel eliminates the option of GFCIís at the main unless the person wants to upgrade the panel to breakers. Replacing each receptacle with an individual GFCI would indeed improve the safety level for the occupants, but it would essentially be a pricey 2-wire system since the grounding plug would still not be unconnected, and in fact useless. Everything between the GFCI outlet and main panel would be ungrounded and basically unprotected. And if the wiring is the old creosote-soaked cloth insulation type, I would personally not sleep well until all that was replaced, GFCI, ground wire, or not.

The question was posed, if I were standing in a puddle of water, dryer in hand, would I prefer doing so using a 2-wire, GFCI outlet, or a normal, 3-wire outlet. The answer, of course, is neither! Sure, the GFCI will protect me better should I get the dryer wet or somehow it develops a short, but the water on the floor could be seeping under the baseboards and onto other wires with old and cracked insulation, or somewhere a wire on another circuit is shorting to a pipe or somethingÖan open loop, outside the GFCIís protection, waiting to be closed. I would not want to take the chance that it would close through me.

Indeed, if we were able to make a physical inspection of the property, our advice could be much different . Maybe the house was rewired in the 30ís or 40ís, and has plastic-insulated wire, so all thatís needed is to add the ground wire (local code permitting). Maybe it was redone in the 50ís or 60ís and a grounding wire does exist, but itís only connected to the outlet box (thatís the way my house was). The point is that there are so many different scenarios that could exist, but lacking the opportunity of a personal visit, the best advice any of us can give to those in these types of situations, is to seek out the skills of a qualified professional who can come to the property, ascertain the circumstance, and make a recommendation.

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