My apartment isn't grounded and I don't know anything about electricity

altoid

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The problem: I now live in an old 2nd-story apartment with not a single freakin' grounded outlet and I don't know anything about electricity.

I've got a few electrical devices of non-trivial value: fApple MacBook Pro Retina, ARRIS/Motorola SurfBoard SB6141, Asus RT-N56U, Raspberry Pi, and a brand new Hunter 90400 table fan. The modem, router, and RPi are all near each other, the laptop can be charged wherever, and the table fan should ideally be movable, but doesn't have to. At some point in the future I'll be adding an older MacBook Pro, TV, fApple TV, and some other gizmos, most likely.

The fan, however, explicitly requires a grounded outlet (according to the manual). Getting the building to redo the wiring isn't gonna' happen, so I just spent some time trying to figure out if there's something I can do, and my options seem to be:
  1. Get a UPS (liek dis) and plug all the devices in.
  2. Roll with a plain ol' surge protector.
  3. dealwithit.gif

The problem with option 1 is that it seems most UPSes rely on the grounding for their surge protection capabilities, which means I'm not gonna' get a whole lot out of 'em. I can get just a decent surge protector for far less if the benefits are comparable. (I also already have one of these, but it's operating at a temperature far higher than before, making me wonder if it's time to replace it.)

So, my questions are:
  1. Would I benefit enough from a UPS for there to be a point in buying one over a regular surge protector, given that neither would be grounded? (I don't care about running on battery power ? I just don't want my shit to burn the fuck out.)
  2. If I'm sticking with a surge protector, is the higher operating temperature of mine a reason for concern, or is that normal?
  3. When the manual for a device like the table fan explicitly states ground is required, how required is it really?
  4. Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?

Halp. And thanks a bunch!


Moving isn't an option, so let's not waste keystrokes on that.
 

Spectre

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You should always have a UPS, especially in LA as there are to be scheduled rolling blackouts and brownouts over the next few months. A surge strip running hot should be replaced.

What you need are these: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheater_plug

However, you need to summon an electrician to determine if you can even use those; and you might be able to convert the outlets for cheap. More info in this article: http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/how-to-ground-electrical-outle-108229

- - - Updated - - -

Ground rod, copper wire and a bunch of these.

Not necessarily a great idea - a lot of the older LA homes have aluminum wiring and the receptacles weren't grounded either. Two separate but very important problems.

If the house is not aluminum wired (unlike my parents' place in LA), but you don't have grounded wiring, you can't use the cheater plug and have to use a GFCI type outlet.
 
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Spectre

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Can you make an anonymous tip to the local code inspector and have the landlord fined?

LA permitting is a Byzantine maze of exceptions, historical building grandfathering and flat out bribery. Short answer: It's like Chicago, so no.
 

Cavi Mike

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Not exactly sure what a ground is going to do for any of the stuff you mentioned - you did notice there aren't any ground pins on them, didn't you?
The fan is grounded by law because it's a metal-chassis fan with a mains-voltage motor in it, not because it's there to save it in some event of catastrophic electrical-grid meltdown. Also, nothing you have there will be affected even by a direct lightning strike to your apartment because they're all powered by "power packs" or "power bricks" which will fail internally before anything will reach the device. UPS systems are for things that have internal power supplies, mainly desktop computers.
 

Racin

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Yea, you don't need a ground, you need surge/leakage protection.

I'm pretty sure that in the US, you can buy outlets with leakage protection bulit-in.

EDIT: Yep, you need some GFCI outlets.
 
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BlaRo

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Spectre, he's not in Los Angeles anymore.


...sadly. :cry:
 

SidS1045

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Yea, you don't need a ground, you need surge/leakage protection.

I'm pretty sure that in the US, you can buy outlets with leakage protection bulit-in.

EDIT: Yep, you need some GFCI outlets.

GFCI outlets installed without correct grounding in the building's wiring will not provide any protection at all.

Changing the outlets in a system without proper grounding is a violation of electrical codes and can easily lead to unsafe conditions, including (but not limited to) electric shock and burns, and death. The only correct remedy is for the building owner to hire a licensed electrician (and no, I'm not one, although I am a broadcast engineer who has worked with electricians and electrical systems). Mistakes made with electricity can kill. Get someone who knows what they're doing. (And please note that on the linked site apartmenttherapy.com, they say the exact same thing: check with an electrician for proper grounding of the fuse box or breaker box before swapping outlets.)

As for what the OP posted: Using a UPS or surge protector on ungrounded outlets provides no protection whatsoever. A surge protector works on the theory that voltages in excess of a certain amount will be shunted to ground before they can damage whatever is plugged into it, but if the SP is ungrounded that won't happen. A UPS is simply a battery backup which provides household current if the electricity goes off, but no UPS I've ever seen will work correctly without being connected to a properly grounded electrical system. It seems to me that the OP's other concern is overload...too many gadgets needing more juice than the building can supply. That's also a judgment which should be made by a licensed electrician.

Spectre is correct about electrical codes. Assuming the wiring was up to code when it was installed, there's most likely no requirement for it to be redone just because the code changed. However, most electrical codes specify that if one part of the wiring is re-done (other than making simple repairs), usually all of it must be brought up to current code requirements, including proper electrical grounds and grounded outlets.
 

Hidden_Hunter

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I got my place rewired after I moved in, it was still running it's light cable through VIR cable through metal conduit in the roof which was using the sewer for ground D:
 

Racin

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GFCI outlets installed without correct grounding in the building's wiring will not provide any protection at all.

Changing the outlets in a system without proper grounding is a violation of electrical codes and can easily lead to unsafe conditions, including (but not limited to) electric shock and burns, and death. The only correct remedy is for the building owner to hire a licensed electrician (and no, I'm not one, although I am a broadcast engineer who has worked with electricians and electrical systems). Mistakes made with electricity can kill. Get someone who knows what they're doing. (And please note that on the linked site apartmenttherapy.com, they say the exact same thing: check with an electrician for proper grounding of the fuse box or breaker box before swapping outlets.)

Yes, it will. GFCI without ground will protect against current leakage and load imbalance between the live and neutral lines.
This explains the function of a GFCI outlet pretty well: http://forums.mikeholt.com/showthread.php?t=130089&p=1245222#post1245222

I have no idea about local/US building codes so I won't go into these.

EDIT: But I do agree with you on the point that electrical work should be left to the professionals. But my first post was intended to let OP know that there is a cheaper alternative to running ground to each outlet.
 
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calvinhobbes

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I got my place rewired after I moved in, it was still running it's light cable through VIR cable through metal conduit in the roof which was using the sewer for ground D:
The switch for the light in my bathroom had some sort of hiccup a couple of months ago, so I opened the circuit breaker and had a look. What I saw was surprising, so I had another look and then a third one, but my eyes really weren't playing a trick on me: the person who had installed that light switch had used a green/yellow wire as a phase. My landlord wasn't too happy about having to send the electrician out again, but my explanation ("like throwing a suicide belt to someone who's drowning") seemingly did the trick. Fucking hell...
 

93Flareside

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I'm fairly certain they sell grounding rods at Home Depot. The longer the rod the better the ground. A couple feet should be fine. Just clamp some green wire to the rod and wire to the ground terminal on the circuit breaker. Pretty simple, just time consuming. If you're renting, just bug the landlord. That's all you can really do. If you own, well, you might have a grand old time re-wiring the house. If you still have outlets with no ground, I guarantee you have cloth insulated wiring which isn't up to code anymore.
 

altoid

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Ground rod, copper wire and a bunch of these.


Can't really do much with that on the 2nd floor of an apartment building in a fairly urban area.




You should always have a UPS...[snip]


I should've clarified, but all the outlets have a nice slot for the ground prong, but it isn't connected to much of anything...or anything at all.




Can you make an anonymous tip to the local code inspector and have the landlord fined?


I'm fairly certain it's not really a legal issue...




LA permitting is a Byzantine maze of exceptions, historical building grandfathering and flat out bribery. Short answer: It's like Chicago, so no.


I'm not in LA, but it's still applicable.




Not exactly sure what a ground is going to do for any of the stuff you mentioned - you did notice there aren't any ground pins on them, didn't you?
The fan is grounded by law because it's a metal-chassis fan with a mains-voltage motor in it, not because it's there to save it in some event of catastrophic electrical-grid meltdown. Also, nothing you have there will be affected even by a direct lightning strike to your apartment because they're all powered by "power packs" or "power bricks" which will fail internally before anything will reach the device. UPS systems are for things that have internal power supplies, mainly desktop computers.


BOOM ? this is reassuring, and quite on-topic. I think I'm comfortable dealing with the fan not being grounded if that's really the reason the manual requires it. #fuckit #yolo




Yea, you don't need a ground, you need surge/leakage protection.


I'm pretty sure that in the US, you can buy outlets with leakage protection bulit-in.


EDIT: Yep, you need some GFCI outlets.


I'm a renter ? I'm not touching the wall (or having anyone come out and do anything, because I'll just be told to suck it).




Spectre, he's not in Los Angeles anymore.




...sadly.


Awwww!




As for what the OP posted: Using a UPS or surge protector on ungrounded outlets provides no protection whatsoever. A surge protector works on the theory that voltages in excess of a certain amount will be shunted to ground before they can damage whatever is plugged into it, but if the SP is ungrounded that won't happen. A UPS is simply a battery backup which provides household current if the electricity goes off, but no UPS I've ever seen will work correctly without being connected to a properly grounded electrical system.


That's what I concluded but wasn't certain. Hooray, I'm not an utter idiot!


It seems to me that the OP's other concern is overload...too many gadgets needing more juice than the building can supply.


Not really all that concerned about that ? everything's been fine for the ~2.5 weeks I've lived here. I just don't want a fire and/or dead electronics, if there are reasonable measures I can/should take to prevent those issues... (All this came about because on the same day I realized my fancy new fan's manual states grounding is required and my main power strip (which powers my modem, router, RPi, and an external HDD) got rather warm, unlike at the last (properly grounded) apartment.)




The rest of CA is basically the same way - same f**ked up power situation, same f**ked up building codes (that they're only half-assedly trying to fix now), and mostly the same f**ked up code enforcement.


Hooray!




I got my place rewired after I moved in, it was still running it's light cable through VIR cable through metal conduit in the roof which was using the sewer for ground D:


That sounds pretty terrible. I don't think I want to know if I've got something similarly bad here...




Yes, it will. GFCI without ground will protect against current leakage and load imbalance between the live and neutral lines.
This explains the function of a GFCI outlet pretty well: http://forums.mikeholt.com/showthread.php?t=130089&p=1245222#post1245222


I have no idea about local/US building codes so I won't go into these.


EDIT: But I do agree with you on the point that electrical work should be left to the professionals. But my first post was intended to let OP know that there is a cheaper alternative to running ground to each outlet.


Messing with anything actually built into the apartment (yes, mere outlets included) is out of scope for the purposes of this discussion.




The switch for the light in my bathroom had some sort of hiccup a couple of months ago, so I opened the circuit breaker and had a look. What I saw was surprising, so I had another look and then a third one, but my eyes really weren't playing a trick on me: the person who had installed that light switch had used a green/yellow wire as a phase. My landlord wasn't too happy about having to send the electrician out again, but my explanation ("like throwing a suicide belt to someone who's drowning") seemingly did the trick. Fucking hell...


The joys of renting, amirite?




Get Toyota on the case, they'll ground it to the ground a la your old car


That's a great idea ? let me just find the number of their electrical department, the one that delivered my 98's classic Toyota clock that actually stopped working.




I'm fairly certain they sell grounding rods at Home Depot. The longer the rod the better the ground. A couple feet should be fine. Just clamp some green wire to the rod and wire to the ground terminal on the circuit breaker. Pretty simple, just time consuming. If you're renting, just bug the landlord. That's all you can really do. If you own, well, you might have a grand old time re-wiring the house. If you still have outlets with no ground, I guarantee you have cloth insulated wiring which isn't up to code anymore.


My landlord is a company that won't do anything about it ? involving them is a non-starter.
 

93Flareside

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So, you call your local municipality. They've got some bored inspectors itching for something to do. Say you have some concerns about your apartments wiring and notice there's no ground on the wall outlets. You also explain that the landlord has been unresponsive with your inquiries. You'll get someone no matter how corrupt.
 

altoid

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So, you call your local municipality. They've got some bored inspectors itching for something to do. Say you have some concerns about your apartments wiring and notice there's no ground on the wall outlets. You also explain that the landlord has been unresponsive with your inquiries. You'll get someone no matter how corrupt.

Ungrounded outlets aren't a code violation in older buildings (such as this one). The best I can do is leave a bad Yelp review, which requires more effort than it's worth...
 

93Flareside

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Right, whatever. If you're so worried about it, move. But, do check for updated wiring in the new place you decide to move to before blindly signing the lease.

Does any of your current devices actually have a usable ground? If not, there's no point in worrying about. If, like others have your area experiences surging, in a quality surge protector.

Unless you must have some devices running that cannot be shut off unexpectedly. Wifi routers do fine so long as excessive voltages don't come through the line. Then a UPS be a good investment.

Why not just make the call anyways instead of worrying about it while you sit on your hands asking the internet whether having no grounding is good or bad.
 

altoid

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Right, whatever. If you're so worried about it, move. But, do check for updated wiring in the new place you decide to move to before blindly signing the lease.

:rolleyes:


Does any of your current devices actually have a usable ground? If not, there's no point in worrying about. If, like others have your area experiences surging, in a quality surge protector.

Only my laptop and the table fan have ground at all. I think my surge protector arsenal will suffice, yes.


Unless you must have some devices running that cannot be shut off unexpectedly. Wifi routers do fine so long as excessive voltages don't come through the line. Then a UPS be a good investment.

Everything I've currently got would most likely be fine if shut off unexpectedly. I'll get a UPS if/when I add a TV, Apple TV, speakers, and/or other entertainment center stuff.


Why not just make the call anyways instead of worrying about it while you sit on your hands asking the internet whether having no grounding is good or bad.

Making the call is more painful than asking on the Internet how important having grounding really is. In just 15 posts I learned quite a bit and got some seemingly solid advice, all with far less headache than it would be to find the right person to call and waiting on hold for however long it'd be. Works for me...
 
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