Lots of older homes that we inspect have what is called “open ground” outlets. It’s basically the result of a two-prong outlet being updated to a three-prong outlet without adding a ground wire to the circuit. The concern with the outlets being ungrounded is that any extra electricity (think a short of some sort) doesn’t have a place to go and can often find something nearby to transfer to, like curtains, walls, furniture, etc. An outlet that is properly grounded would send that electricity back to the panel, and send it through the grounding rod into the ground outside. So while the defect is common, anything dealing with electricity can be dangerous and should be addressed.
So how do you fix it? There are two ways you can address the issue. The first is very labor intensive, which is to add grounding wire throughout the house. Placing ground wire in the panel and fishing it through walls to add to each outlet is not only difficult, it can also be tough to negotiate the repair as it can get expensive. Good news, there is a simpler fix. Add a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) outlet at the front end of ungrounded circuits and it will help protect against outlets shorting without having to add wire throughout the house. The hardest part is finding the front end of the circuit, which we recommend hiring an electrician to find.
Whether you are on the buyer or seller side of a transaction, this is a simple and relatively inexpensive fix to a concerning and common safety problem with older homes.