Being well grounded is not just about one’s well being–but it could be.

There was a time, in the not so distant past, when the only way a house’s electrical system was “grounded” was by connecting the grounding conductor to the metal water pipe coming to the house. There are still a large number of such houses around the country.

While I could talk about where this wire gets connected in relation to where it is supposed to be connected, that could be another whole blog post all by itself.

Today I want to talk about how this particular means of grounding the electrical system, often gets compromised by the installation of plastic components. It is also about how plumbers are not electricians and electricians are not plumbers, so these compromises happen too often. The lowly home inspector is about the only one that is going to draw attention to the problem.

One of the most common ways these older systems get compromised is when the old galvanized pipe from the street is no longer functional (from a plumbing stand point) and gets replaced with a new plastic water line. The installation eliminates the house electrical systems grounding electrode, resulting in the loss of a proper path to ground for dissipation of static charges that might build up on metallic systems  in the home.

The ground path is not totally eliminated however. There is also a grounding path back to the ground rod at the utility transformer on the pole at the street–which could be several houses away.

For electrical safety it is important to maintain grounding redundancy.

There could also be ground rods present in addition to the water pipe grounding electrode.

Another way these systems get compromised is when the pipe is repaired with plastic components—resulting in a break in continuity of the grounding conductor.

In the following pictures we can see where the old water line has been abandoned.

Water Pipe Grounding

And while the new water line from the street is metal, plastic components have been used to connect the new pipe coming to the home to the water pipes inside the home. The grounding conductor attached to the pipe on the house side of the plastic pipe is effectively no longer connected to the incoming water line–to either of the metal pipes.  Both would still likely be required to be used as grounding electrodes for the home’s electrical system.

Repairs will not be difficult, but needs to be done to provide proper grounding of the electrical system.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Sorry Utility Linesworker—I didn’t mean to forget…….

The receptacle pictured below is a standard dryer receptacle. 

It is installed next to the stacking washer dryer and was likely used for the dryer, previous to the dryer being converted to gas.  What is a handy sort of guy to do with a left over dryer receptacle?  Well why not plug the generator into it and use it as a way to get power to the electrical panel?  GENIUS!

While it has been labeled as to what it is for–with even a warning to make sure the main breakers are turned off, this is not an approved means of providing power to the electrical service panel.  Modern generator interfaces are just that: “an interface.”  An interface will mean that there is a way of ensuring that home generated power cannot improperly back-feed the lines running to the home.

This is an extremely important safety feature because, every year utility company lines workers are killed or injured from improperly installed generators that send power back into the grid.  Obviously if you shut off the mains, as the instructions say–everything will likely be OK.  But all you have to do (when in the heat of the moment all you can think about is the venison thawing in the freezer or getting your crashed computers back up and running) is forget to turn the Main breaker off just once and someone is killed–how will you rationalize not installing a proper interface?

These interfaces are extremely cheap–especially the type that is basically a switch that turns the generator breaker to the on position in the same movement that turns the main breaker off.  Here is a picture of what these simple interfaces looks like.

When you flip the main breaker to the left you can then slide the mechanism upward allowing you to turn the top right generator breaker to the on position.  There are even panels that can perform this operation automatically.  Here is a picture of a Square-D Panel that can sense a power loss, turn off the main breaker and turn the generator on–all before the lights much more than dim.  At least that is the theory.

These panels however, are not cheap–but for someone that wants all the bells and whistles or has to maintain life support systems and computer systems–it may be warranted.

So let’s generate safety–and let’s do it safely!

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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How could anyone do this with a straight face?

To state that the kitchen had some electrical issues would be accurate. That there was only one circuit for all the receptacles in the kitchen is not that unusual—if the house was from 1900—but this was basically “new” work, done less than 7 years ago.

The work was “less than professional” and most likely the work had no chance of being done under permit.

If this was the end of the story you would be perfectly justified in just clicking away–but hang in there, you just know it has to get better.

So this one circuit “begins” on one side of the kitchen where it picks up the refrigerator. It then wiggles its way over to the adjacent bathroom receptacle. It then goes through the wall to kitchen receptacle number one, toward the kitchen sink and receptacle number two where it then goes past the kitchen sink to receptacle number three—and then “apparently” to number four on the side panel of the washer/dryer.

But wait a minute–how come I haven’t said GFCI yet? So I plugged my little 3-bulb tester into a receptacle and pushed the test button. I heard the familiar “snap” as the GFCI tripped.

Now imagine in your own mind, a whole bunch of words I am saying in my mind, that I cannot use in this post.

The “snap” came from behind the stacking washer/dryer at the end of the kitchen countertop—behind the side panel that encloses the washer/dryer.

How could anyone do this?

But wait a minute–as it turns out, the WASHING MACHINE is the first receptacle in the circuit, not the last as I originally thought, and of course they are all GFCI protected–bathroom included!

For those of you that do not know–there is required to be at least two countertop appliance circuits. The washing machine needs its own circuit. The bathroom needs its own circuit (or at least a circuit separate from the things that it shares in this case).

The chorus:

How could anyone do this?

It least it gave me the reason why the sloppily installed receptacle on the side panel of the washer/dryer was not functional. AHHHH those silver linings!

It was not actually a receptacle at all, as you can see in the picture I was able to get with my camera over the top of the stacked washer/dryer.

It was one of those fake receptacles that people put over a hole in the wall where they hide their flash-drives, drugs and mad money.

Now you can see it through the access hole.

Well it seems at least the “Why would anyone do this,” is at least a little bit better.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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