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Can a Surge Protector Protect an Ungrounded Outlet?

Can a Surge Protector Protect an Ungrounded Outlet?

Electricity remains one of the most useful human discoveries of all time. It might even be accurate to call it the bedrock of civilization, as almost every modern convenience we enjoy today needs power to function.

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Still, uncontrolled electricity is dangerous, and a lot can go wrong when too much electricity hits your home during a power surge. Besides replacing appliances, you might find yourself fighting a fire outbreak. In grounded systems, surge protectors may help, but is there a surge protector for ungrounded outlet use, as well?

Casteel’s electrical experts go into the details below.

Power Surges 

As the name suggests, a power surge is a burst of electrical power that’s higher than the normal voltage required to run household electrical appliances. In the United States, the sweet spot is between 110 and 120 volts, but a power surge could bring significantly higher voltage coursing through your home system’s wires. 

Power surges can happen for various reasons, such as:

  • Electrical overload. Electrical overloads occur when a single circuit draws too much power, usually when you plug too many devices into the same extension cord.

electrical overload

  • Faulty wiring. Damaged or exposed electrical wires can cause a surge. 

faulty wiring

  • Lighting strike. A lightning strike hitting power lines triggers a massive voltage spike.

lighting strike

  • Power outage. Power grid failures can indirectly lead to power surges (the voltage might be too high in the first few seconds after the power returns).

power outage

Depending on the severity of the surge, you may end up with significant damage to plugged-in appliances, so protection measures are essential.

What Is a Surge Protector?  

Professional electricians like Casteel will often recommend getting a surge protector—an electrical device that counters the impact of a power surge. This simple device can protect electrical appliances and equipment from damage by diffusing the excess current. It detects when the voltage entering your home exceeds the upper boundaries and springs into action so that your electrical appliances escape the surge. 

Surge protectors feature one of two devices and include the following:

  • MOV. The metal oxide varistor absorbs all excess voltage, diverting it to the ground.
  • GDR. The gas discharge arrestor works similarly. When the voltage is too high, the energy will ionize the gas inside the surge protector to transfer excess current to the ground line until the voltage returns to normal levels.

MOV surge protectors are more common in the whole-home surge protection niche. GDR surge protectors often work better for single appliances.

Does a Surge Protector Work Without a Ground Wire?

Diffusing the current for both of the above types of devices works by grounding, but does a surge protector work without a ground wire? Seeing how these systems work, it’s not always clear whether a surge protector will work for ungrounded outlets. Fortunately, the answer is simple: surge protectors will not work with ungrounded power outlets.

With ungrounded outlets, there’s nowhere for the surge protector to divert the excess voltage to. As a result, the transient voltage from a power surge or spike will not dissipate into the ground safely. Instead, it will flow to nearby materials, which could cause appliance damage and a high risk of electric shocks to people nearby.

There’s only so much MOVs and GDRs can do if there’s no grounding wire to dissipate excess voltage. In fact, a surge protector will provide very little protection in this scenario, if it offers any at all.

So, what should you do for ungrounded outlets? This situation is mostly a concern in older properties that were built before the electrical safety standards changed in the 1960s. If that sounds like your property, experts like Casteel strongly recommend that you actively explore ways to ensure power surge protection for your appliances and your family.

Revamp the Electrical Architecture For Greater Protection From Power Surges

The first thing to consider would be a complete revamp of the electrical architecture in your home. You’ll need to call in an electrician to explore the best approach to upgrading your electrical system and installing grounded outlets. 

Ask an Electrician About Other Options To Protect Your Home From Power Surges

Your electrician may also recommend circuit breaker repair or an electrical panel upgrade. You can also install a surge protector for ungrounded outlets since some of these systems will have features that compensate for the lack of grounding. It’s not complete coverage, but it’s something.

Whole-House Surge Protector Installation Services

Do you want to ensure complete protection for your home and appliances during the next power surge? Reach out to an expert electrician like Casteel for options, such as whole-house surge protection installation services or an evaluation of your electrical infrastructure to ensure comprehensive surge protection.

Whether you need 24/7 local electrical services, plumbing solutions, or more information about a surge protector for ungrounded outlet usage, Casteel has the answers. Call 1-770-659-7091 to chat with our expert electricians in Lawrenceville, GA!