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Outlets in a 1950s house


I moved into my house (1950) last fall. In January, I had the outside breaker box totally replaced (it wasn't too far away from being original), along with all of the switches and outlets inside the house.

The electricians, as they replaced the outlets thoughout to 3-prong, put in GFCIs where they said it was necessary. Every outlet in the kitchen is a GFCI, for example. But, not all the outlets are GFCis now (bedrooms, living room, etc.).

I have one large room in the basement. They did not install any GFCIs in that room, but replaced all of the outlets.

I would like to put a 5.0 cubic-foot chest freezer in the basement. When I asked the electrician if that would be okay now that the outlets were changed, he said "sure", and told me I would know if it didn't work if the freezer tripped the breaker.

The website selling the freezer I want states "There must be a dedicated three or four prong grounded electrical outlet within 36" of the freezer (15-amp circuit breaker or time delay fuse must protect the outlet)".

I have a few questions:

1) How do I know that I can safely put a freezer in this room? Do I buy it and hope that it works? What would be the worst that could happen (fire???)?

2) Can freezers be placed on carpeting with appropriate ventilation at the back and sides or should it be placed on something like a piece of plywood or riser of some sort?

I don't want to purchase the freezer, then find out that it either trips the breaker each time or that it will catch on fire.


Re: Outlets in a 1950s house

1. You need a dedicated line to the freezer. An electrician can help you with that. Using anything other than a dedicated line is a gamble, might work or not. As far as what can happen - you'll most likely trip the breaker a lot.

2. Better not place the freezer on carpeting. Tile is better. Also, it needs to breath, so don't push it all the way to the wall.

Question: did the electricians ground each outlet?

Re: Outlets in a 1950s house

1) I think the dedicated circuit is for food-safety reasons, not fire reasons. You don't want a hairdryer or something to flip the breaker and your food to spoil and your family to get sick, or your expensive steaks to be ruined. It's required in new construction. You could do the math on what you have on that circuit and what wattage the freezer will use and probably be fine, people have plugged these in their basement for decades and we're all still here. But maybe a guest will be blow drying their hair in the basement one day, trip the breaker, not know what to do and wait a few hours for you to come home...

2) It could leak when defrosting or during a blackout, or maybe sweat if it's humid in the basement, that could be bad for carpet.

Re: Outlets in a 1950s house

In addition to what dj1 said, a freezer should never be plugged into a GFI-protected outlet. The code allows for dedicated circuits with a single receptacle (not duplex) without GFI protection, even in areas that would otherwise require GFI protection (such as in garages and unfinished basements). If the circuit is rated for 20A, the single receptacle must also be rated for 20A. I don't see a good reason why you couldn't plug the freezer into a 20A circuit; I suspect that the manual means it must be at least 15A.

What really baffles me is the requirement specifying a "three or four prong outlet." I've never, ever heard of a four-prong outlet on a 120V circuit!

If you plug the freezer into a shared circuit (shared with other outlets or devices) it won't trip the breaker if that's all that's connected. But if you do overload the circuit or cause it to trip somehow, you can end up with a freezer full of spoiled food and a soaked carpet if you don't notice the problem right away. That's why you absolutely should have a dedicated circuit for the freezer. The cost of having a dedicated circuit will likely be less than the cost of losing a freezer full of food, and certainly less than the cost of repairing water damage.

Re: Outlets in a 1950s house

Loreen, congratulations on your new home and concern over the electrical system.

I see they replaced all the switches and receptacles with three prong. Did the electricians mention if the wiring had a ground wire? Also, did they install Arc Fault Breakers (AFCI) ? Were the receptacles the Tamper Resistant type (TR) with the little windows that prevent a child from sticking a metal object into them?

True, bedrooms, living rooms etc don’t require GFCI protection.

Freezers typically don’t draw very much power which is why your website said you only needed a 15A circuit. Never heard of a four prong plug on a branch circuit.
You might try turning off the breaker that supplies the receptacle where your freezer will be located to see if it’s got a bunch of other loads on it.

If all you have are a few lights or receptacles you could install LED or CFL lamps and relocate appliances to other circuits to lighten the load.

You didn’t say if the basement was unfinished, if so Code requires all receptacles to be GFCI protected. If it’s finished a non-GFCI circuit would also be my choice.

Google “freezer alarms” to get lots of devices which will call you if your freezer has problems.

You would not have a fire hazard if the freezer drew too much power.. the breaker would just trip. Find out how much power the freezer requires and plug in an appliance such as an iron or heater that draws the same amount, to test the circuit. If it holds for an hour or so you should be OK.

A piece of plastic office folks use under their roll-around chairs would be a good idea.

Re: Outlets in a 1950s house

Regarding your question on where to put the freezer, I would say that it needs to not be on carpet, if at all possible. The sides and back also need to be not too close to the wall, as it is a freezer and may omit some condensation moisture and could cause mold in the walls (depending on where you live this could be especially true!)

Re: Outlets in a 1950s house

If you've ever wondered how to detect if your freezer temp has risen above safe limits then refroze, such as a power outage while you were away-

Put an ice cube in a baby food jar and put it in the freezer. If the cube remains, you're safe. If you see no cube, the ice melted and refroze and you should suspect spoilage.

Phil, the low-tech guy :cool:

Re: Outlets in a 1950s house

***, these are some great ideas. Thank you so much!

The basement is finished. The only rooms down there are the utility room, which houses the washer, electric dryer, gas furnace and boiler. There isn't a bathroom, so that is a plus.

I also have an auxiliary air conditioner and I'm not sure what breaker that is on, but I am very doubtful I will ever use it anyway. I am near 50 years old and until last October I have NEVER lived in a house with AC. Plus, I have a hard time forking over the $$$ in electric bills!

I can for sure do some testing to see if there is a dedicated line to the large room down there. The only other thing I can think of that might be on the same line might be the dryer. The electricians marked the breakers when they installed the new panel, so I will have to check that out when I get home. Nothing else is using power in the basement besides the washer, dryer, furnace and boiler. The room I want to put the freezer in is just a huge room with nothing in it and no planned use for it.

I did not know there were such things as "freezer alarms". I am just going to have to Google that and check it out.

The cube-in-the-baby-food-jar trick is genius! So simple, so cheap, yet priceless.

I believe none of the wire in the basement is grounded. I remember the electricians saying that they found only a couple outlets upstairs that were grounded and they couldn't make heads nor tails of why certain ones were and others weren't.

That is a great idea about putting a chair mat under the freezer. I'm wondering, though, would somethink like a tiled piece with a 1" lip around the edge work? That way if there is some water seepage, the lip would catch it and keep it from the carpet?

I should mention, too, that the "carpet" in this room is just one very large room-sized piece that is lying loosely over the 1960s vinyl tile (that 12" kind that has the metallic sparkles in it). The goal is to keep water off of it, but if some water gets on it, it wouldn't be a total rip out of carpeting to fix.


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