Don’t go for this cheap, easy fix. A grounded plug adapter will not protect against an ungrounded electrical box or a faulty appliance, and can lead to electrocution and electrical shock injury
Whether you’re a homeowner or a renter, you’ve probably come across a common, but inconvenient electricity problem at one time or another: you have an appliance with a three-prong plug, but the room you want to put it in only has a two-slot electric outlet.
Do you use a three-prong-to-two-prong grounded plug adapter? Is it safe?
As an electrocution attorney, I’ve worked with many of the nation’s top electrical safety experts and the consensus on using a grounded plug adopters is a resounding “no”: a grounded plug adapter, also known as a “cheater plug,” may seem like the easiest — and cheapest — solution, but it’s not the safest one.
That’s because two-slot electric outlets are often ungrounded, particularly in older homes and structures. Grounded outlets were not required in new construction until 1962, meaning there are still many homes with outdated two-slot outlets that pose dangerous electrical hazards.
And if your electrical box isn’t on a grounded circuit, or the appliance is faulty, your body will act as the grounding path when you plug in the grounded plug adapter — shocking or electrocuting you in the process.
How do you know if your electrical box is grounded?
The modern electric outlet is grounded at 120 volts, and has three slots: the narrow “hot” slot, the wide “neutral” slot, and the rounded ground slot. That third slot is crucial, because if the appliance, cord or outlet malfunctions, the ground offers a path for the electricity, sending it back to the breaker box and safely into the earth.
But without a ground, that electricity seeks the nearest, easiest path possible. And if you’re inserting a grounded plug adapter into the ungrounded outlet, that path is your body.
So how do you know if the box is grounded? Most hardware and home improvement stores sell outlet testers, also known as receptacle testers, which will indicate whether the outlet is grounded. They sell for around $5.
If it’s not grounded, the best, safest option is hiring an electrician to upgrade your wiring to full grounding. As costly as this may be, it’s a much better alternative than the risk of electrocution.
Your appliance could still override anything a grounded plug adapter does
Another reason to not use a grounded plug adapter is the appliance’s possibly unsafe condition. One tragic example was in 2005 when Tarun Mal, an associate professor at Cleveland State University, was electrocuted when he plugged a defective fluorescent lamp into a time switch using a grounded plug adapter.
Ohio’s Bureau of Workers’ Compensation reported that by doing this, Mal interrupted the emergency electrical path to ground from the metal exterior of the lamp, which he didn’t realize was electrified.
If Mal would have used a ground-fault circuit-interrupter instead of a grounded plug adapter, he would have been safe. The circuit interrupter automatically cuts electrical power to an appliance when it senses that the electrical current flowing through the outlet or device has found an unintended route. (Do note, though, not all GFCI outlets provide a ground. Such outlets are marked with “no equipment ground” on them and will only stop the power.)
Insurance risks ahead
One final reason to avoid grounded plug adapters is that your homeowner’s insurance might not cover damages to your home or to someone who is electrocuted or shocked as a result of your using a grounded plug adapter. I’ve also seen where an appliance manufacturer’s warranty is voided.
Plenty of good reasons to avoid grounded plug adapters. Don’t be lured by the false promise of a quick and easy solution when you have a three-prong plug and a two-prong outlet.