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How To Tell If Your Breaker Box Is Grounded (Easy Step-By-Step Guide)

How To Tell If Your Breaker Box Is Grounded guide

How To Tell If Your Breaker Box Is Grounded

Any of your appliances that have a plug with three-prongs are designed to work the best when a ground plug provides a good path for the current all the way to your electrical panel. There are some surge protectors to help, but these are going to work only when your power source is grounded. 

This means that you need to check your breaker box to ensure that it is grounded. Without this happening, your devices will not be protected the way that you would like. While some methods require an electrician, there are a few steps you can take on your own to check this. 

Materials Needed

If you want to check the breaker box to see if it is grounded on your own, then there are a few things you need. First, you need to get a two-lead circuit tester. This will help you determine how the breaker box is working. 

Having a little bit of familiarity with your electrical panel as well. This will help you be prepared so do a little research if you have questions about anything. 

Step 1: 

To start, you need to choose an outlet. It should be a working outlet, one that you would like to use along with a surge protector. You can also use an appliance that has a three-prong plug if that is easier. 

Step 2: 

Once you have the right outlet picked, you need to get started. Make sure that the power to that circuit is turned on. Take out the circuit tester to make sure there is some kind of voltage showing up. You can test this between the neutral and hot terminals on the outlet. 

If you are uncertain about which terminal is which the hot one will be connected to the smaller slot and the neutral will be the one connected to the larger slot. Use your voltage tester to see whether a reading is present. 

Step 3: 

The last step was just to confirm that there is some kind of voltage occurring between the hot and the neutral parts of the outlet. As long as everything is working well, you should get a voltage reading to show up with it. 

Once you have confirmation of a voltage here, you can use your tester to make sure there is also a voltage going between the ground and the hot. If you do see a voltage here, this is a good indicator that the outlet, along with the electrical box, are grounded. 

Step 4: 

Sometimes you will need to work with the two-prong outlet rather than the three-prong outlet that we talked about before. The testing that you need to do for this one will be a little difference. 

It is possible to test for a ground right at the screws in the cover plate before taking any steps and looking into the box. This is because many of the older homes that use these kinds of outlets were wired with armored cable and metal boxes. This may sound strange, but it provided a reliable ground path over to the panel. 

This is not true with all of the outlets available. Some were wired using a dedicated ground wire, even though they were a receptacle for two-prong. 

The two or three-prong adapters that work with the screw in the cover plate as their ground are still available today. And you can easily test them. 

To do the testing, you can connect one lead of your circuit tester right onto the screw of the cover plate. Then the other lead of your tester needs to go to the hot slot. If you are able to get a measured voltage, this is a good sign that the breaker box is grounded, as is the outlet. 

Step 5:

Hopefully with the other methods will provide you with a voltage so you know whether things are working or not. Sometimes this process will not work that well at all. 

If you used your tester and were not able to find a reliable ground at all and you want to check whether there is a ground wire inside the box, it is time to inspect behind the receptacle. You should do this safely though and not rush into it all. 

Step 6: 

To test behind the receptacle, you must turn off the circuit. Use your tester to confirm that the hot terminal is not giving off a voltage at all to be safe. When you are certain the voltage is done, take the cover plate off along with the screws that secure that receptacle to the box. 

Step 7: 

Once all of this is removed, take a look at what is behind the outlet cover plate. Look to see whether there is a bare copper wire that comes into the box with both the neutral, which are the white wires, and the hot, which are the black wires. The ground wire will be copper. 

Step 8: 

From here, once you have confirmed that the box is not grounded, you need to decide which electrician to work with. While you can do the testing on your own, the work that is necessary for the rest is something that a professional needs to do. 

If you try to do this work on your own, you may risk your health and electrocution in the process. They have the tools necessary to come in and fix things. And if you have trouble figuring out whether each part is grounded or not, they can help too. 

Do I Need an Electrician?

The steps that we discussed above are things that you can do at home on your own, without a professional electrician to help you out. In some cases, you can handle this work on your own and will not need to bring in a professional at all. 

However, if you struggle to tell whether the breaker box is grounded using the steps above, or you think that something else is wrong with the breaker box, then you should call in an electrician in your area. 

Do not try to do the work on your own. An electrician has the right skills and tools necessary to handle any problems with the breaker box. Doing it yourself can cause electrocution and will be incredibly unsafe for you to do. 


It is important to check whether your breaker box, along with your outlets, are grounded or not. This can protect your appliances and electronics in case there is a power surge that may knock them all off. 

You are able to do some of the work on your own. By following the steps in this article, you can check out the outlets that are both three-prong and two-prong to see whether they are grounded or not. If you use your tester and get a voltage reading, this is a good sign!

If something is not working well, and you struggle to get a reading at all, this is a sign that your outlet and breaker box are not grounded. Then it is time to call on a trusted electrician to help you figure out where the problem lies and get everything fixed and working well. 

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