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The Purpose of a Grounding Wire

Electricians and Energy Topics
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A grounding wire is a wire attached to outlets and other electrical devices that is also securely connected to the ground at the breaker box. This direct physical connection to the earth is essentially a safety feature, as the earth acts as a reservoir of charge and can neutralize an electric current. Along with circuit breakers, grounding wires are standard safety devices used with today’s electrical circuits. Here’s some information on grounding wires and how they work.

Purposes of a Grounding Wire

A grounding wire essentially has three main purposes. First, it acts as overvoltage protection. In the case of lightning, a line surge, or unintentional contact with a higher voltage line—where dangerously high voltages end up in the system—ground wires provide an alternative path around the electric system, minimizing damage and sending that extra charge into the earth. Another purpose is voltage stabilization. The earth is the most omnipresent conductive surface and thus provides a common reference point for the many voltage sources in an electrical system. Finally, a grounding system provides a certain level of safety for humans, as it removes any dangerous voltages in the case of equipment failure.

How a Grounding Wire Works

In an electrical circuit, you have what’s known as a hot wire that supplies the power and a neutral wire that carries that current back. The thing to understand about electricity is that it is always looking for the shortest path back to the earth. Therefore, if there is a problem where the neutral wire was broken or interrupted, the grounding wire provides a direct path back to the ground, preventing you from becoming that shortest path and suffering a serious electric shock. Part of the role of the grounding wire is also to force the circuit breaker to trip if a hot wire comes into contact with the metal case of an appliance, thereby removing the hazard.

Is a Grounding Wire Necessary?

An electrical circuit will operate normally without a ground wire, because that wire is essentially not part of the conducting path that’s supplying the energy. The problem is that without a ground system in place, there is nothing to stop any dangerous voltages from being present in an electrical device or circuit. Thus, a grounding wire provides an essential safety net against the very hazards associated with electricity.

For reasons of safety, among other things, a ground wire is an essential part of any electrical circuit. Ground wires keep us safe around electrical currents, allowing electricity to have an everyday presence in our homes.

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