Checking if an outlet is grounded

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The wiring in your home consists of the “line” or “hot” wire, the neutral wire and a ground wire. In the US these wires are color-coded: black or red for the hot wire, white for the neutral wire and green for the ground wire. To test whether an outlet is receiving power and properly grounded, you need a neon circuit tester. These are about a $1.20 from Lowes or Home Depot. You can also use a multimeter set to AC voltage appropriate for the outlet you are testing. Use caution; don’t stand in water or wear metal jewelry.

Standard outlets have a large slot, a small slot and a “U” shaped hole. In a properly wired outlet, the smaller slot is “hot”, the large slot is neutral and the “U” shaped hole is ground.

Insert one probe of the circuit tester into the small slot and the other probe into the large slot. If the circuit tester lights up, you have power to the outlet. Now place one probe in the small slot and the other probe into the “U” shaped ground hole. The indicator should light up if the outlet is grounded. Test both outlets because they can be wired separately. The fact that one is properly wired does not guarantee that they are both properly wired.

If the tester does not light, then place one probe into the large slot and the other probe in the ground hole. If it does light, then the outlet is grounded but the “hot” and neutral wires are reversed. If it still does not light, then the outlet is NOT grounded. If the outlet is miswired or not grounded, it should NOT be used until the problem is corrected.