You’ve probably heard of a “ground wire” or know why something electric needs to be “grounded.” But do you know what a ground wire actually does to keep everyone in a home safe? What’s a ground wire do? Why should you know a few basics about this for household safety?
What’s a Ground Wire?
A ground wire is an electric wire that goes into the ground below a home or structure. Electrical codes made ground wires standard and required starting in the 1960s. Most homes now have a ground wire, grounded outlets and electrical panels. It’s to the point we now might take all this for granted.
A ground wire gives excess electrical currents or surges a safe route to go. The mass of the ground has a negative electrical charge and it naturally attracts electricity’s positive charge. The positive charges will take the fastest route to the huge mass of negative charges (the Earth) and be “grounded” safely. Without “grounding” the route could be through a person, causing a major injury or fatality, or another item or material, causing a fire or damage.
Why Does an Electrical Current Go to the Ground?
The reason why a current runs to the ground is the neutral factor in the supply transformer is linked using a ground conductor to a ground electrode. This raises the potential of the hot conductor to about 120 volts relative to the ground surface.
If there’s a fault, or if someone makes contact with a live conductor, current runs through ground conductors and the ground back to the transformer. Separating safety transformers, for instance for powering tools on construction sites, isolates the neutral from ground so the current can’t stream (or at least very little) if a fault happens. These transformers furthermore change voltage to 110 volts in nations where 230 volts is the typical supply voltage. This lowers the current to a safer level if a person experiences a shock.
Excess electrical surges are common in any system. They’re the reason we guard our electronics with surge protectors. A surge can come from lightning strikes, transformer malfunctions, when a large system or appliance starts, in all, in a home, there could be minor charges a few times a day. If you notice lights dimming or blinking for a second when the air conditioner starts, this is a minor charge of excess electricity.
In a properly based electrical system, that excess electricity goes directly right into the ground. However, if your home has electric outlets that aren’t grounded, the surge could become a risk.
The most hazardous way is if the power locates a course to the ground with a human body. This can happen if you touch an ungrounded plug or electrical outlet at the wrong minute. The electricity can run in the part of your body touching the electrical outlet and your feet on the floor, creating burns, nerve damages and even death, if the electricity is strong enough.
If the rise of electricity locates a path with the structural elements in your home, it can start a fire. The current could run through electronic devices plugged into an outlet and destroy them.
How to Check for Yourself
There’s an easy way to check your electrical outlets to see if they’re grounded. Grounded outlets have three slots. Ungrounded outlets have two slots. The rounded, D-shaped port is the one connected to the ground wire.
If you have a more newer house, really any house built from the 1960s on, you should have a correctly grounded electrical system. In older homes, you could experience a mix or grounded and ungrounded outlets. Homes which have been renovated or added to over the years might have a mix. If you or a previous owner did any DIY jobs involving electrical systems or components, you might have a flaw or mistake in a ground wire and the electrical system.
Double-Insulated and Non-Grounded Appliances
Appliances like hair driers, TVs, some kitchen appliance and more might have plastic housings. If a fault takes place inside the appliance or device (for example, a cable or part touches the inside of the casing), there is no shock or electrocution risk because the plastic body is an insulator.
These home appliances don’t have a ground wire. Some devices, such as power tools, are not grounded and are double insulated. Even though the external case of the device or home appliance might be metal, enough separation and isolation of the external metal from internal high voltages is there to prevent electrical shock. These tools don’t have a ground wire either.
Double insulated appliances are shock risks if they get wet. This is since the case is not grounded and it can become live if water gets into the separation between live parts and casing.
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