Ring Electric owner Bryan Verhulp remembers one client’s call well. She was concerned that she could feel a bit of a tingle when she touched her dishwasher and refrigerator at the same time. And since she had a new baby at home, she thought she should call an electrician.
Turns out the house’s wiring was ungrounded. Without grounding, electricity from the appliances was trying to dissipate. Through her.
“Knowing there was a baby there, we had that place rewired within a week,” says Bryan.
Of course, not everyone with ungrounded wiring in their home gets a zap from their appliances. In fact, most of the time, even ungrounded wiring works well. But when something goes wrong, that extra grounding wire can – and does – save lives.
To understand why a grounding wire is so important, we need to understand what it does, and why its absence doesn’t cause fires or huge shocks every time an electrical device is switched on.
Picture a typical wall outlet. There will be at least two vertical slots you can plug into. The slightly shorter slot is “hot”. It connects to the wire that carries current from a building’s electrical panel to the device that uses electricity. It brings the power. The other vertical slot provides a neutral path for any excess, unused electricity to flow back to the panel (or, if not the panel, it leads to a grounding plate or copper water pipe buried underground). Underneath those two slots should be a third, roundish hole. This is essentially a failsafe, an extra path for excess electricity to leave the device, should the usual return path not work.
Most of the time, the first path works just fine. But problems can occur if the device you’ve plugged in doesn’t work properly and has problems feeding power back through the normal path, as in the case of the client with the baby. That “tingle” that she felt when she touched the dishwasher and the fridge meant that the appliance itself had a problem and the metal components of the appliance were now live. Without a grounded failsafe path, her body became an alternate solution.
Problems can also occur with ungrounded wiring when there’s a sudden surge of power that a two-prong outlet can’t handle. Perhaps a lightning strike.
Some people think that using a ground fault device or ground fault interrupter (GFI) between a device and an outlet will fix the lack of ground wire. They might also assume that connecting a three-to-two prong adaptor will do the trick. But this attempt to cheat the wiring is not always safe.
The whole point of a GFI is to measure the current between the hot and neutral wiring paths. It relies on a $9 device to protect you. They often fail and you will not know until you get that nasty shock.
Not surprisingly, most people have experienced some kind of electrical shock from a device, wiring, or outlet in their life. And while a shock itself may not often kill you, it could knock you off balance, or even off a ladder.
In fact, between 2006 and 2015, more than 3,000 Ontario children under the age of 15 went to their local emergency department because of electrical injuries, according to the province’s Electrical Safety Authority. Just under half of those were four years old or less.
The statistics on residential fires aren’t comforting either: Between 2011 and 2015, an average of 651 fires every year in Ontario were caused by electrical wiring, reports the Office of the Fire Marshal of Ontario.
So even though having an ungrounded electrical system in your home might feel like it’s not a big deal most of the time, it’s absolutely in your best interest (and your family’s) to get it looked at. And as Ottawa’s rewiring experts, Ring Electric is perfectly positioned to correct a potentially dangerous situation.
Contact Ring Electric today at 613-421-4442 for a free estimate to have your home’s electrical circuits grounded for safety.