GFCIs as a Solution for Ungrounded Receptacles

I don’t wish to violate any forum standards. If this post constitues such a violation please ignore.

I am not an inspector. I have, however, recently had a house I am in the process of selling inspected. Numerous receptacles were found to have open grounds.

The house was built in 1992. Upon my opening up the faulty receptacles, all cables were found to contain the third (bare) grounding wire. None of these wires were connected. After grounding repairs were made in each receptacle, my three prong tester still showed open grounds.

Apparently upstream grounding connections were not made as well. A quick inspection of the attic utility space suggests that many junction boxes are difficult to access or truly inaccessible. I suspect that many may be located hidden under loose insulation.

There is a lot of online confusion and controversy about using GFCIs as a solution in such a situation. I am hoping that I can obtain a definitive answer here. If code requires that all connections upstream be appropriately grounded, I fear that the total bill would be impressive indeed.

Can GFCI breakers and/or receptacles be used as a correction for open ground receptacles in residences with three wire grounding cable that has been essentially ignored?

Thanks in advance to anyone courteous enough to offer meaningful advice.

The GFCI can be used on ungrounded systems but you do not have an ungrounded system, you have a defect somewhere. No quick fix here. Find the defect. Most of the time a wire has popped out of an improperly applied wire nut. No shortcuts here. Just plain dirty work.

Grounding of the receptacles is required where a ground is present. Utilization of GFCI protection for ungrounded circuits is allowed for replacement of non-grounding type receptacles, with grounding type receptacles where a grounding means does not exist. In other words, this solution is recognized for replacements in older type systems.

Having said that, if the grounding connections have been negated somehow, and it is not feasible or cost effective to establish the necessary grounding, adding GFCI protection is a prudent “fix.” I would consider that a much safer alternative to leaving the receptacles ungrounded. However, as Steve suggested, the grounding should be re-established if at all possible.

The GFCI protection can be added at the origination of the circuit (within the panel) or at the receptacle itself.

edit to add…

Junction boxes are “required” to be accessible. So there’s another issue you should address.

NO! This grounding issue MUST be addressed and repaired.