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What To Do With The Ground Wire

By Dave Rongey - Summary:

Grounding Wall Outlets and Light Switches: What to do When there is Nothing to Attach the Ground Wire, Grounding Wall Outlets and Light Switches, Ground Wires and Ungrounded Fixtures and Boxes, Bonding the Ground Wire.

Where and How to Attach a Ground Wire

Electrical Question: What do I do with the ground wire for a porcelain ceiling lamp holder when there is no place to attach it?

  • I understand that on a porcelain ceiling lamp holder cooper wiring devices you do not need a ground wire and there is no place for it.
  • I am not wiring to anything that is metal, and the devices are porcelain and plastic blue boxes.
  • What do I do with the ground wire that is in the Romex electrical cable?
  • Do I just trash it or should I attach it to the screws that are attaching the porcelain fixture to the blue round box?

Thanks for the help just not sure what to do with ground could use nut just to put on it, heck I don’t know.

This electrical wiring question came from: Bob, a Homeowner from Gibson, Tennessee.

Additional Comments: I love this site because it is a big help to us who are unsure and it helps us with safety issues. Thank you for your help.

Dave’s Reply:
Thanks for your electrical wiring question Bob, This is a very good question.

How to Ground Wall Outlets Light Switches and Fixtures

Application: Wiring Outlets and Light Fixtures.
Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced – Best performed by a Licensed Electrician.
Tools Required: Basic Electricians Pouch Hand Tools and Voltage Tester.
Estimated Time: Depends on personal level experience and ability to work with tools.
Precaution: Identify the circuit, turn it OFF and Tag it with a Note before working with the wiring.

Grounding Wall Outlets and Light Switches

  • Bonding the Ground Wire Whenever Possible
    • The ground wire is the most important wire of any electrical circuit because it protects the circuit components by providing a path to earth ground if an electrical fault should occur.
    • All ground wires are part of the EGS or Equipment Grounding System which is bonded at the main electrical panel.
    • At the main panel, the equipment grounding system has one or more main connections which bond the electrical system to earth ground to provide a low resistance path to ground.
    • Ground wires are typically attached to a ground screw or screw terminal connection on either the light fixture, receptacle outlet, or electrical devices or components including the electrical junction box, or ground lead wire from light fixtures and other the electrical devices which provide a connection for the ground wire.

What to do When there is Nothing to Attach the Ground Wire

  • Ground Wires and Ungrounded Fixtures and Boxes
    • When you have a ground wire and there is no place to attach it then place a wire connector over the end, coil up the ground wire and push it back into the electrical junction box.
    • IMPORTANT: Never cut the ground wire off.
    • Devices such as a porcelain lamp holder may not have a place to attach a ground wire because the fixture is not made of a metallic material which can conduct electricity.

Additional Resources about Grounding

Electrical Grounding
Electrical Grounding Methods and Requirements
Electrical Grounding Methods and Requirements

  • Listing of electrical codes for grounding with examples of electrical grounding codes for home electrical wiring.

The Following will assist you with Grounding:

Electrical wire
Electrical Wire for the Home
Complete listing of electrical wire types and parts used for home projects with electrical code information serves as selection guidelines.

Junction boxes

  • Electrical Junction Boxes for Home Wiring
    • Understanding electrical junction boxes and what they are used for. Home electrical wiring is the process of installing electrical wire to a location that will serve electrical devices or an appliance. One very important component is the box where the wire will be installed. The type and size of the home wiring electrical boxes will depend upon the circuit size, application and its location.

This link is helpful as a Homeowner
Do-It-Yourself Electrical

Learn How to Wire it Right with my
Complete Guide to Home Electrical Wiring
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Wiring Home Electrical Circuits
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Troubleshooting and Repair Electrical Wiring
Wiring Methods for Upgrading Electrical Wiring
Electrical Codes for Home Electrical Wiring
....and much more.

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16 Responses to “What To Do With The Ground Wire”
  1. Terri says:

    I bought a house built in 1900 and have several electrical issues. I am replacing a florescent fixture and saw that the old light was wired with an extension cord to a switch and then plugged into outlet. I used Romex from the light to the switch but the extension cord runs from the switch to the outlet behind a brick wall. Can I pigtail these? Please advise.

    • Dave Rongey says:

      Hi Terry,
      Replacing old wiring methods and upgrading to current code standards is always the best thing to do. Extension cords in garages that are used for permanent lighting should be replaced with approved wiring methods as well. The approved type of wiring will depend on how the garage is finished off. For example: Romex or Type-NM cable is not allowed in open framed structures such as garages where the cable is exposed and may be damaged. However installing an approved conduit type, such as metal flex or EMT conduit, will provide protection as required for wiring in exposed areas.
      I hope this helps,

  2. Norm says:

    I am replacing a 3 prong 220volt outlet and using a plastic box. Where do I connect the bare copper grounding wire? I know you connect it to the box if it is metal but mine is plastic.

  3. Vicki says:

    I have an old trailer and the boxes are not stable so I’m putting in regular boxes. The boxes that are there just have the wire pushed into them breaking the coating but a solid wire in and out. I have one new box in and cut the wire so I could attach the outlet. So, now I have an extra ground wire. Which ground do I use, the top or the bottom wire?

    • Dave Rongey says:

      Hi Vicki,
      Bonding the Ground Wires of Circuit Wiring
      All of the ground wires of the circuit cables should be spliced together to ensure that the ground is carried through and available for the entire circuit. When receptacles or switches are installed, an additional ground wire is connected with the spliced ground wires, and this additional ground wire is attached to the green ground screw of the outlet or switch.
      I hope this helps,

  4. Keith Bodine says:

    I am putting in a GFCI and when I pulled on the Romex cable ground wire to install it, it broke off making it too short to use. How do I attach a pigtail to the broken ground wire. I have a long piece of ground wire. How do I attach it?

    • Dave Rongey says:

      Hi Keith,
      Broken or short wires can be a challenge to work with, however if there is enough wire left you may be able to use a butt-splice crimp connector. This type of connector is an inline splice connector which is available in various sizes and are generally insulated with a plastic covering. Select one of these inline splice connectors to match the wire gauge you are working with. Be sure to use a good crimp tool to make the splice. The crimping of the splice is vitally important. This type of splice will allow you to add the additional section of wire needed to make the connection to the GFCI outlet.

  5. William says:

    Do both the light switch and the ceiling light fixture have to be grounded, or is it OK for just one to be grounded? Thanks.

  6. derek says:

    I am an electrical apprentice and recently ran temp power for an outlet and light I have installed in basement just to test the circuit. I rang every thing out and had no shorts. I spliced an extension cord onto the homerun end of the 12/2 Romex w/ ground and noticed the ground pin on plug part was broken off. I plugged the spliced cord into a grounding GFCI and when I went to outlet I had put in (no miss wiring) I had voltage on my ground and it was hot. I swapped out the two prong cord cap with a three prong cord cap and retested the circuit and everything was fine 120v hot to neutral and 120v hot to ground – 0v ground to neutral. Did this only happen because of the two prong plug, and if so please explain. I’m just curious is it because there was no ground path back to panel?

    • Dave Rongey says:

      Hi Derek,
      After wiring the temp power was the light ON?
      Keep in mind that depending on the light fixture, you can read 120 v on the neutral depending on the tester configuration, and depending on the type of light fixture. In this case, if the fixture was grounded and the ground and neutral were bonded but the ground path back to the panel was not complete then this could have caused the 120 volt reading at the ground.

      A similar reading can be seen when testing an OPEN light switch for an incandescent light. You will get a 120 volt reading even if the light switch is OFF because one of the leads is reading the neutral through the filament of the light bulb.

      Keep in mind that electricity takes the least path resistance to ground, no matter what that may be.

      Enjoy the electrical trade – it’s a Great One.

      PS – Watch out for those Hot Neutrals – Those Hurt!

  7. Lori says:

    Will the rest of the run be grounded still?
    Say I ran wire from the breaker to 3 strings outlets and then to a switch ending at the porcelain lamp holder.
    Are all my outlets still grounded if I don’t connect the ground wire at the end of the run?.

    • Dave Rongey says:

      Great question Lori
      Yes, as long as the ground is bonded at the panel, and spliced through at every junction along the way, but the ground did not have a termination screw at the fixture box for the lamp holder, and the ground wire at that point was just tucked into the junction box then the continuity of the ground will still be bonded all the way through.


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What To Do With The Ground Wire

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