How to Safely Replace Two-Prong Outlets Without Rewiring Your Home


Replacing outdated two-prong outlets with modern three-prong outlets is an important upgrade to make your home safer and more functional. However, rewiring your entire home to convert two-prong wiring to three-prong can be complicated, invasive, and expensive. Fortunately, there are methods to safely convert two-prong outlets to three-prong without rewiring that are within the abilities of many DIYers.

In this guide, I will walk through the key steps to safely replacing two-prong outlets without rewiring. I will cover:

With proper materials and care, you can upgrade your outlets to add grounded protection and modern functionality without the major hassle and cost of rewiring. Let's get started!

Dangers of Two-Prong Outlets and Benefits of Upgrading

Two-prong outlets have only a hot and neutral slot to insert plug prongs, while three-prong outlets add a grounding hole. Outlets without a ground prong are outdated and potentially dangerous for several reasons:

Converting to modern three-prong outlets solves these risks and provides additional benefits:

Determining if Your Home's Wiring Can Support a Three-Prong Outlet

Replacing a two-prong outlet with a three-prong outlet is straightforward if the electrical box already contains a neutral wiring in addition to the hot wire. However, homes built before the 1960s often used two-conductor wiring without a neutral.

Here are some methods to test whether your home's wiring will support a three-prong outlet:

If your home does not have a neutral wire, more complex rewiring will be required to support three-prong outlets. Consider consulting an electrician unless you are highly experienced with electrical work.

Choosing the Right Replacement Outlets and Materials

Once you have determined that your home's wiring can accommodate three-prong outlets, the next step is purchasing the right equipment. Here is what you will need:

Purchase matching new outlets and wall plates for a consistent, finished look. Choose commercial grade parts for durability.

Using Handyman-Approved Methods to Convert Outlets

With the right materials gathered, we can now get into the technical details of safely converting two-prong outlets to three-prong. There are a couple common methods electricians use:

Method 1: Replace Outlet and Add a Ground Clip

This method involves fully replacing the two-prong outlet with a new three-prong outlet and grounding it via a jumper wire connected to the metal outlet box:

This method provides the new outlet with a satisfactory ground path through the jumper wire and metal box. Installing the ground clip is the most important step for safety.

Method 2: Replace Outlet and Pigtail the Ground Wire

An alternative is to pigtail the ground wire from the new outlet to the existing neutral wiring without using the outlet box for ground:

This pigtail connects the outlet ground screw to the neutral wire, providing a ground path. The box itself does not serve as the ground.

Installing GFCI Outlets for Added Protection

For locations prone to moisture like kitchens and bathrooms, an additional important step is replacing outlets with GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets.

GFCIs provide protection against shocks by detecting abnormal current flows and quickly shutting off power. Three-prong GFCI outlets add crucial protection, even if grounding cannot be established through your home's wiring.

Follow the same steps above to replace old outlets with three-prong GFCIs. Just be sure to connect the LINE wires to the GFCI and the downstream OUTLET wires to the LOAD terminals. Test the function using the "Test" and "Reset" buttons after installation.

Testing the New Outlets for Safety

Once the outlets are replaced, check your work thoroughly:

If the outlets do not function safely, recheck all connections and wiring. Call an electrician if you cannot get the outlet conversion to work properly.

With upgraded three-prong and GFCI outlets properly installed, you can enjoy safer, modernized electrical circuits throughout your home. Be sure to take your time, follow electrical best practices, and always turn power off at the breaker when working on outlets. You've got this!