Dryer Plug Doesn't Match Outlet

It is not uncommon for new homeowners to move in, unpack, and attempt to do their first load of laundry, but can’t get the dryer hooked up. The new homeowner is bewildered when the dryer plug doesn’t match the outlet. The new dryer has a 4 prong plug and the outlet has 3. Here’s a little background on the matter as well as some options for getting the dryer up and running.

3 Prong Vs 4 Prong

This is a common situation when installing a newer dryer in an older house. Up until the year 2000 installing 3 prong plugs and outlets were the norm. Then the code changed to require 4 prong. Why the change? Old practices allowed three conductors; two were hot wires and the third wire functioned for both neutral and ground. With modern electrical standards the 4 prong outlet provides separate wires for the neutral and ground. Ultimately this change occurred because this is safer. So how is this safer? In the event of an electrical problem at the dryer the current has a dedicated separate path to the electrical panel’s grounding system. In those rare situations, this protects the homeowner and the appliance from being electrified.

How to Get the Dryer Plugged In

All this background is nice but our homeowner still needs to know what to do. There are two options for correcting this to get the dryer going. 1. Replace the wiring from the dryer’s breaker to the receptacle with all new wires. 2. Replace the cord and plug for the dryer to match the outlet in the wall.

The first option will bring the old wiring up to current code but this is time consuming and costly, and in some cases, not feasible. The second option, which requires buying a 3 prong cord at your local hardware store, is cheaper but the grounding will not be correct. Although this is the least desirable option, it is an acceptable approach because this is an older home with existing wiring.