What to do When No Ground Wire in Electrical Box for Light Fixture

No Electrical Ground Wire in Electrical Box to Attach Light Fixture’s Ground Wire To

By Mark J. Donovan




Many people with older homes run into the situation of not finding a ground wire in the electrical box when installing a new light fixture in an old house.

Most new light fixtures include three wires, a hot (black) wire, a neutral (white) wire, and a ground (bare copper or green) wire.

The hot wire provides power to the light fixture.

The neutral wire provides a return path for the current flowing from the light fixture itself back to the main electrical circuit panel.

Make sure to read this article on how to prevent electrical shock when working on electrical wiring around your home.

The ground wire provides a secondary path for the current to flow in the event a short circuit occurs in the light fixture, or even in the electrical conduit wire (Romex cable with the hot, neutral, and ground wire bundled in it.). The ground wire is attached to the metal frame of the light fixture.



With older homes, the electrical cables typically only included a hot and neutral wire. Often the electrical wire ran in metal conduit pipe throughout the house and connected to electrical outlet and switch boxes. The metal conduit pipe and electrical boxes served as the ground connection for light fixtures and appliances.

However, in many cases metal conduit and metal electrical boxes were not used in residential construction. In this case, there was effectively no ground wire. Not having a ground wire in the electrical wiring of a home is now illegal in new home construction, and has been the case for decades.

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In normal operation of the light fixture current should never be flowing on the ground wire. This is why the ground and neutral wires should never be connected together, except back at the bus bar in the main circuit panel. Watch this video to learn how to wire an electrical light socket.

In the event a short circuit does occur, where current from the hot wire or neutral wire begins flowing on the metal light fixture frame, the current will be conducted over the ground wire. When it does, the circuit breaker back at the main electrical circuit panel will pop, thus stopping the flow of current on the circuit and preventing a potential electrical fire and/or a fatal electrical shock. Learn how a circuit breaker saves lives.

So what to do when there is no ground wire in your electrical box? If the box is metal, then you can attach the light fixture’s ground wire to it, assuming the metal box is grounded. 

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If the electrical box is not metal, then simply tape the end of the light fixture’s ground wire with electrical tape and let it float in the electrical box.

Your only other alternative is to upgrade the wiring in the house, which will cost many thousands of dollars.


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