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What Is the Ground Wire?

In many cases, the ground wire is connected in the circuit box.
In addition to a hot and neutral, most wiring also has a ground wire.
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  • Written By: Harriette Halepis
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 27 March 2014
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A ground wire is a wire that is literally connected to the earth and acts as a backup in case a neutral wire fails. Without one, the risk of electrical shock becomes a viable possibility. Ground wires are usually green or yellow in order to differentiate between neutral wires and hot wires, and therefore it is easy to tell the difference between it and other wires.

Each electrical circuit inside of a home has two types of wire: hot and neutral. Black wires are known as "hot" wires, and they carry electrical currents; hot wires may also be red. White wires carry electrical currents away from a device, and these wires are known as neutral wires.

When a white wire is broken, stray current is no longer carried away from a device, and neutralization is not possible without the help of a ground wire. In most instances, the ground is connected to a circuit breaker. When a neutral wire is no longer functional, this other wire will trip the corresponding circuit breaker and any electrical current is immediately stopped.

Appliances will operate normally without the help of ground wires. In fact, if one is broken or missing, most people will not be able to tell the difference. If a large amount of high voltage has come in contact with the appliance, however, a person using that appliance may get a hefty electrical shock. Therefore, it is important that all appliances include a grounded wire.

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Ground wires are, essentially, a type of insurance. When a neutral wire does not function, it will ensure that an appliance does not give off a dangerous electrical shock. In addition, all homes should included proper circuit breakers, which will also help prevent hazardous shocks.

When purchasing a home, it is crucial for the buyer to ask a home inspector, or electrician, to inspect a home's electrical network. While some homes may appear to be in good condition, faulty wiring can lead to shock and fires. Nearly every country has an electrical standard set in place that all homeowners must adhere to, and they exist in order to prevent fires and other dangerous incidents. In most cases, a home that is not up to code will not contain a circuit breaker box or ground wires.

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Discuss this Article

anon926732
Post 9

The way that the nerves are in your palms work is that they contract when an electrical current is touched. Meanwhile, the backs of your palms, when touching electricity, will push away your hand from the current due to the nervous system of the body, so you should always ensure that your palms are up when reaching an electrical enclosure.

KathSC
Post 8

I have a dimmable uplighter floor lamp with a missing plug. When I went to rewire it (in the UK) to a new plug, I found a brown wire, a blue wire and a yellow wire (not green and yellow which would normally be the ground in the UK). Can someone help me with rewiring this plug? Because the casing of the lamp is metal, obviously it is important that I get the grounding wire right before I switch it on, or it will be my eyes that light up instead!

anon337590
Post 7

Why should you reach into an electrical enclosure with your palm up?

anon281823
Post 5

Do ground wires hooked to electrical poles need to be marked? I see some with yellow coating but some are not and are very hard to see.

anon263576
Post 3

No you would not get shocked if you touched the ground wire as long as the neutral was still drawing away from the device.

ValleyFiah
Post 2

@GlassAxe- I am not a professional electrician so I may not be accounting for all variables, but you can be shocked by either prong in a normal 110V AC plug if you touch the bare metal and it is seated in the socket. Your body is not isolated form the ground, so you become the path for the current to reach the ground. If you were insulated from the ground, which is possible, and you were only touching one prong, you would not be shocked. It would be the same idea as a bird on a wire. That being said, I cannot tell you which prong will shock you since the outlet is an alternating current. There is no dedicated hot or neutral wire if I am correct (I could very well be wrong because I am not an electrician).

I also know that you can be shocked if you are plugging in the device and your hand slips, touching the ground and one of the lead connectors. At this point, you are connecting the alternating hot prong to the ground, completing the circuit to the ground. I hope this explanation of a ground wire connection all made sense. In essence, you could have touched just one prong, two prongs, or a prong and the ground prong. It has happened to me before and it feels like a kick in the arm.

GlassAxe
Post 1

What a straightforward, informative article on ground wires. I am not that knowledgeable about electricity and the inner workings of my gadgets, but this explains the idea in simple terms.

I do have a question though. What happens if I touch a ground wire while an item is plugged in? I once got a painful shock from a television I was unplugging from the wall. I do not know which prong is which, but I touched one (maybe more) of the prongs as I was unplugging the device. Within an instant, I smelled the scent of burning flesh, and my arm was throbbing. Did I touch the electrical ground wire?

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