Electrical Panel Isn’t Grounded? How To Tell and What to Do! 

By Dan Belanger •  Updated: 06/07/24 •  5 min read

Electricity takes the shortest path. When an electrical surge or back-feed happens — like when an appliance is shorted, a lightning strike hits, there’s a fluctuation in your electricity supplier’s meter, etc.— the results could be disastrous if your electrical panel isn’t grounded.

What is Grounding? 

So let’s take a step back and get a simple definition of what grounding your panel is. Grounding literally means creating a direct and safe path for excess electricity to move from your lights and appliances, through the electrical panel, and into the ground. Electrical grounding is a backup pathway for electricity that is only used if there is a fault in the wiring system. It keeps your appliances and fixtures safe when there is an issue.

What Happens if Grounding is Not Done or Not Done Properly?

Although I’ve luckily never seen it in my 20-plus years of working as a residential electrician, if this happens, your panel would temporarily become live, making any metal appliance or surface become live as well. 

Touch a live wire or piece of metal and you’ll get a nasty shock because you will become the shortest path out of the circuit. 

It’s also worth noting that if a fault happens and you have no ground wire any appliances you have connected to your system may also be fried beyond repair.

How Do I Know if My Electrical Panel Isn’t Grounded?

Some online resources will tell you to use a volt meter to find out if your panel is grounded, but that isn’t actually going to tell you anything about whether your home’s electrical panel is grounded or not. 

So, how do you know if your electrical panel is grounded? By opening it up and having a look. An electrical panel can be grounded in a few ways including a number 6 gauge wire run to your water main, or a grounding plate, or grounding rods. *

* As a Master Electrician in Ontario, Canada I follow the Canadian Electrical Code, your local electrical code may have slightly different requirements etc., so be sure to check with an electrician in your area if you have doubts. 

Grounding your panel by a wire to your water main is only a possibility if your water main is made of copper. There are now some new mains made of plastic, and these aren’t any good for grounding. 

Here are a few pictures showing you what each type of grounding can look like: 

A Grounding Rod Outside the Home vs. A Grounding Plate Outside the Home.
A Grounding Rod Outside the Home vs. A Grounding Plate Outside the Home.

In general, your panel should already be grounded unless something happened like your grounding wire was cut during renovation, or your plate was damaged from excavation outside (though that would be extremely rare since it’s placed so close to your home). 

What Do You Do if Your Electrical Panel Isn’t Grounded?

If your electrical panel isn’t grounded, your first step is to call an electrician. Your ground wire will have to be placed on the live side of your panel and so this is not a DIY project. 

When your electrician arrives, they will run a ground wire to your water meter or install grounding rods as shown above. 

How Much Does It Cost to Ground an Electrical Panel?

Your cost to have an electrician ground your electrical panel will vary by location, but in general, you can expect to pay about $250 CDN (or $195 USD) for a wire ground, which would include up to 25 feet of 6 gage wire, a ground clamp, a 1.2-inch connector, and the skilled labor to install it quickly (it would take approx. 30 minutes for an electrician to do the work).

For a ground plate installation the cost would be a bit higher; about $300 CDN ($230 USD) for the ground plate itself, a bit of ½-inch PVC pipe, a 1.2-inch connector, and skilled labor. The labor in this case will include a bit of digging outside your home on the other side of the exterior wall where your panel is located. 

Earlier, I mentioned a home can also be grounded by a grounding rod, however, grounding rods are kind of the old-school method and take way more time (and therefore cost) to install for no added benefit, so no electrician today would offer that to you.

Do I NEED an Electrician?

Yes. You do not want to have an improperly hooked up ground for all the reasons I outlined above. For the low cost and time needed for this job, it’s worth hiring a professional for this and keeping yourself and your loved ones safe.

Conclusion

Having a panel that isn’t grounded can be a potentially dangerous situation, but thankfully it’s easily remedied by a qualified electrician in about half an hour and for around $250 CDN (or $195 USD). 

If you do suspect your ground wire was cut and your panel isn’t grounded, play it safe and stay clear of your panel and appliances until you can consult an electrician; and do so ASAP to avoid getting hurt.

Dan Belanger

Dan is a Master Electrician in Ontario, Canada, who has 20 years of construction experience focused on new home builds and home renovations.  He’s one of two owners behind 4 Wire Electrical, Ottawa’s leading electrical contractor.  Dan and his business partner, Marc, also build and flip homes in the area.