I am being polarizing; two prong outlets in older homes

Home Inspector with NCW Home Inspections, LLC

I am being polarizing; two prong outlets in older homes


Well I am like the little kid with the bobby pin running around sticking stuff into places. That is what is it seem like when I get into older home and have to check the old twp prong electrical receptacles.

As a home inspector I get paid to do this, how fun is that!

                               Two Prong outlet    (Notice the left slot(neutral) is wider than the right)

But I started thinking… did you know that many of these older receptacles are polarized? These polarized receptacles have a hot (small slot) and neutral slot (larger slot) and no ground (that is the round hole you don’t see). Polarized receptacles were widely used in homes from the 1920’s onward but not always.

So when I am inspecting an older home I am checking to see if the receptacles (if polarized) are properly wired. And often I find them with the hot and neutral reversed. This is a safety issue.

To test this I use my handy dandy tick tester.

                                                  Tick Tester

First you should understand how these work so you can use them properly (Tick testers and how they work).  Also you will need to understand a little about phantom voltage (NEMA bulletin on phantom voltage).

When I test the neutral (big slot) and I get a reading I will usually touch the center screw on the face plate to remove the phantom voltage reading. Then I test the hot (small).

                                               Hot Neutral reverse on receptacle

Electrical safety and all safety items should always be a priority during a home inspection.

“The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.”

Thomas Berger

NCW Home Inspections, LLC  is a Licensed Washington State Home Inspection service located in Wenatchee Washington serving Chelan County, Douglas County, Kittitas County, Okanogan County and Grant County Washington and the cities of Wenatchee, Leavenworth, Cashmere, Oroville, Cle Elum, East Wenatchee, Quincy and many more…  

Comments (5)

Kathy Streib
Cypress, TX
Home Stager/Redesign

Hi Donald- my husband is a retired builder and excellent DIY'er around the home. But one of the first things I learned from him is that when dealing with all things electrical... hire a professional.  

Jul 22, 2019 06:41 PM
Donald Hester

Kathy, More people should. But I found that even the pro's can made some of these mistakes so it good to have a second evaluation time to time.

Aug 03, 2019 08:00 AM
Myrl Jeffcoat
Sacramento, CA
Greater Sacramento Realtor - Retired

I remember a house I bought back in 1969 had the hot and the neutral reversed outlets.  Fortunately, I was married to an electrician who took care of the issue.

Jul 23, 2019 06:41 PM
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Sorry I missed this!

So often, in older homes,  I find three-slot receptacles put onto an older two-wire connection to gain the convenience of having the three-slot ability for plug ins!

When three-hole plugs on appliances came out my mom complained because she had to buy a bunch of adapters to be able to use them!

Jul 27, 2019 04:37 AM
Donald Hester

So common on older homes. Most poeple just do not know that cannot do that. 

Aug 03, 2019 07:59 AM


Nov 01, 2019 05:59 PM


Nov 01, 2019 05:59 PM