You have at least two problems: a fault in your electrical system somewhere is energizing that
pipe, and the pipe itself is not properly grounded.
Get a qualified electrician out to look at this ASAP: this could be fatal.
It's probably a good idea to first determine whether this is a static
electricity shock or an actual 110VAC buzz. I'm betting on the former
because water pipes are *usually* grounded so it's hard to energize them to
the point of getting a shock unless you're touching something that's an even
better ground. If walking on a carpet has given your body a static electric
charge then it could be easily dumped to ground when you touch a faucet or
some other metal part of the plumbing.
Fred, is your basement carpeted? Are we talking a sudden spark and a zap or
is there a constant tingling when you touch the faucet? Do you have plastic
water pipes or copper? Does this happen all the time or just when the
humidity is very low? Do you have an electric water heater or gas unit?
Thanks. I thought it was a bit premature to call in the cavalry because the
word "zap" in the original post made me think "static shock" and not 110VAC.
But it always pays to be careful and I think with the right questions (and
perhaps some testing) we can help the OP determine what's going on.
If you have a voltmeter or test light, measure voltage from a copper
pipe to a good ground (usually the copper pipe *would* be a good ground,
but in this case it is apparently not! Try a grounded receptacle.) I'm
guessing you'll find there is some. Unplug any appliance that connects
to water line one at a time (clothes washer, refrigerator with ice maker
are the two obvious ones; water softener if you have it, etc.) until you
find the faulty one. Leave that one unplugged until it's fixed.
If you've unplugged everything and you still have voltage on the pipes,
start turning off breakers one by one until it goes away. Then
depending on your skill level you can find the issue or give a pro a
good place to start troubleshooting (and be safe in the meantime.)
Consider driving some ground rods, and bonding your panel and plumbing
system so this doesn't happen again!
replace "roosters" with "cox" to reply.
the copper piping IS grounded. Once it is grounded there is a pretty
good chance a breaker will "pop", telling you where the problem is.
Just grab a booster cable to do the temporary ground - see if that
On 10/27/2013 06:52 PM, firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
Good point; I didn't think of that as it's been 30 years or more since I
lived in a house with a water meter actually indoors - but if you do
have that kind of setup definitely there should be a jumper across it.
Next thing to check for is a heavy bonding wire between the same area
and the main electrical panel. (was the main feed from the city water
line originally copper or galvanized but recently replaced with PVC?)
replace "roosters" with "cox" to reply.
It's clear why grounding to water pipes isn't the great idea it used to be
even though in many old houses (like mine) you'll still find plenty of
clamps attached to supply lines. The mains could be PVC, repairs in the
house, even if it has copper plumbing could be plastic, etc.
Undertrained, underpaid cable jockeys find it's a hell of lot easier to
ground a CATV line to a nearby water pipe than it is to run a cable to the
circuit box where you can attach to a proper grounded conductor. A defect
in the attached equipment can then energize the section of isolated pipe
without tripping a breaker, which might be what's happening here.
Hmmm. I am having a little trouble imagining what happens if there's no
good ground in a house, i.e. the cable going to a ground rod is broken and
the water pipes are not continously connected to the feeder from the street.
Is the piping now energized because it's bonded to the neutral at the panel
but it's not connected to a ground?
What's even more interesting is that my bathroom sink faucet lights up the
Sperry tester on its highest setting but the shower faucets do not. Now
it's time to break out the DVM and see what's going on. (-:
If there is no ground return on the house, there is still 240V across
the hot conductors but nothing holding the house "neutral" at ground.
Therefore, neutral will float somewhere in between the two hot
conductors, depending on the relative load on the two conductors (the
loads become a voltage divider between the two hots and neutral).
Since the neutral is connected to the safety ground at the entrance,
safety ground is now allowed to "move", accordingly. You now have a
potentially (boo!) dangerous situation where everything in the house
in energized. If you touch (metal) plumbing, you become part of the
load. Not good.
Many years ago we had a neutral pull off the house. All sorts of
weird things started happening until we figured it out. Basically, we
had 75V on one side of the house and 175 on the other, but that
changed depending on what was turned on. The power company was there
in minutes after the call. They know exactly how dangerous this
A DVM will probably lie to you. Their extremely high impedance will
allow capacitive coupling to show up as a phantom voltage. You need
to load the circuit you're testing to see if it's real. This is why
some people prefer the old analog meters, like Simpson 260s.
On Saturday, November 2, 2013 10:31:45 AM UTC-4, email@example.com wrote:
I woudn't say you become part of the load. The load is
still between the two hot legs or between one hot leg
and the neutral. You are not connected there.
I agree that what you will have is the neutral floating
and not being tied to earth ground potential. Hence
as you point out there can be a voltage difference between
the neutral at the house and earth at the house and you
could get a shock, depending on how large that potential
difference is. And it's not just the water pipes that
are affected. For example, an appliance with a metal
case that has a grounded cord, will have it's metal
at a potential that can be different than the wet earth
you're standing on.
Which is very different from what Robert is talking about.
The neutral is the main path for the unbalanced portion of
the current to flow back to the transformer. Without a
neutral, you have all the unbalanced current, which
could be very large, forced into trying to use
the ground path, which has unknown resistance.
With what Robert is describing, that neutral connection
between house and transformer is intact and functioning.
The idea of the OP, if he were a newbie, running around clamping energized
pipes with a car booster cable gives me just a little pause, especially if
it's likely to blow a breaker. I know it makes sense to check the meter
because more and more water meters do not provide electrical continuity to
ground, but I like Nate's proposal to deactive device by device and circuit
by circuit until the voltage goes away. But that's advice for a person
who's capable of doing his own electrical work competently enough to pass
inspection. I'd say that's less than half the people I know that do their
own work. (-:
I may be missing something, Clare, but what will you have learned if the
breaker pops that you didn't know before? It reveals that the ground is
energized, but we already know that from the shocks?
And how would repairing ground continuity through the meter, if there was
none, make the voltage in the pipes go away? No properly functioning device
should be dumping enough current into the ground to be detectable at
multiple faucets, AFAIK.
While I think jumpering/checking same is a great idea *after* the fault is
found, I don't think it would aid in diagnosing a problem like this. Worse,
still, the jumper could cause a fairly serious spark. If the troll had done
his own gas piping, and the gas meter was nearby he might be standing in a
cloud of gas when he connects the test bypass cable and then he would
incinerate in a greasy trollish fireball. (-: You wouldn't want that on
your conscience? Now me, I wouldn't mind so much.
It will tell you which circuit is causing the problem without having
to shut off all the circuits and search for what could be a needle in
a hatstack. It will also eliminate an interupted ground at the meter
as the problem if it does not solve the voltage on the waterline
It will pull the water line to ground potential. It only takes
MILLIAMPS of leakage to give a tingle.
Now you are REALLY grasping for straws. If there was enough fault
current to cause a serious flash issue, it would have but the OP on
hnis ass, not just a tingle, and there is no reason to suspect a gas
leak - the OP would have smelt that. And see my previous comment
about finding the problem.
Are you an electrician, or have you ever worked under one? I ended
up as a Mechanic after working with my dad as an electrician as a tean
- and electricity in a car behaves very similarly to electricity in a
house - and then I ended up as a computer/electronics technician.
I know electricity - and I have a lot of respect for it. I try real
hard not to give dangerous advice.
That electrical system needed grounding -
OK - that's fair enough. I'll admit I did not consider that when I replied.
I've just been taught not to trip breakers unless it's absolutely necessary
as they have a finite number of fault cycles before they fail. That means I
wouldn't have seized upon that method to diagnose a fault.
My experience is with the "grunt and crank" method of shutting off breakers
one by one (as Nate recommended) and comes from dealing with X10 equipment
issues where tripping a breaker deliberately usually doesn't gain anything.
X10 troubleshooting involves looking for sources of noise or signal
In this case, however, I will gladly concede that it would save time in
hunting down a likely source of the problem. Still, I think it's a very
long shot that the ground shunt on the meter was missing or had failed.
Therefore it would NOT have been the first place I looked, that's for sure.
But even milliamps of current leakage is impermissible, AFAIK, and that's
why wet areas are now required (when doing new work) to be protected by
GFCIs in most cases. (Hope that's broad enough for the NDBF's.) You can be
electrocuted if you manage to get those milliamps running across your chest.
Even if you repaired an open ground shunt at the meter, wouldn't you agree
that something's still wrong with the wiring?
says that <<"Death from an electric shock (ventricular fibrillation*) can
occur when the touch voltage is above 30V RMS resulting in as little as 30
milliamperes of current flowing though the body. This can occur when
improper neutral-to-case connections are made and the neutral is opened." >>
If I recall correctly from previous discussions a GFCI trips when there is
an imbalance of as little as 5 milliamperes. In any event had this been a
real post and not a troll, we have to consider that the OP was experiencing
not just a tingle, but a serious "zap" at several different points in the
house. That, indicates to me (and to a number of others here) that there's
a serious amount of electrical energy reaching the pipes. A perhaps lethal
OMG. That was meant to be a joke, hence the (-: smiley face. But more
importantly, and more realistically, bridging the meter means there's a
chance that he'll touch both ends of the circuit accidentally and if there
is some sort of serious ground fault the current could pass from hand to
hand (and through his chest) - perhaps the most likely way to cause
While bridging the water meter with a car battery booster cable may be
useful advice to someone with excellent electrical skills, I just don't see
it being good advice for a tyro. In these sorts of potentially fatal cases,
it really is important to assume very low knowledge levels on the part of
the OP and high levels of lethality. Water and electricity are a bad
The other issue I have with that recommendation is that assumes that the
amount of current leaking is negligible. That's not supported by the OP's
original description of not just a tingle but a strong zap that appeared to
be spreading throughout the house.
Can you say that with certainty? I think in such a situation it depends on
where he's standing when he experiences the tingle/zap, how much current is
flowing and how it is reaching the ground. A tingle at the basement sink
wearing thick rubber boots could easily turn into an electrocution death in
the shower with the metal supply pipes reaching the grounded drain pipes
through the OP's body.
I would be very reluctant to diagnose this as a small current leak just
because at one point in the house he felt only a tingle - especially when he
later reported a strong zap at a different location touching different
<sigh> I'll have to remember to use the <humor alert> tag next time. FWIW, just for background info, my dad was a materials science engineer for the
nuke sub program and they spent a lot of time developing spark-free
beryllium copper hammers and sparkless flashlights because of the explosion
hazard. So I've grown up thinking that unnecessary spark generation is a
Old habits die hard and I am not inclined to generate sparking when there's
another way to solve the problem. And yes, for my hyped up NDBF detractors
out there (and you know who you are) I *do* assume the OP's not living in a
submarine - although with trolls you never know - but still, throwing
unnecessary sparks doesn't seem like good practice to me. YMMV.
So you're saying you're not a licensed electrician? (-: We have something
in common, then. Neither am I. But I know enough about electricity to know
that when you're getting ANY kind of shock from your plumbing, whether it's
a tingle or a zap, you have a serious problem that likely requires a
professional to diagnose. Any delay in obtaining one represents a
potentially fatal hazard to the occupants of the house and perhaps even the
neighbors if the problem is "at the pole" and external to the house wiring.
Granted. But don't you think that with the level of technical expertise the
OP seemed to have provided (low) that the only real solution was to shut
down the power and get a professional in to diagnose the situation? Or even
the power company? Think of what might happened if, in the described
situation, someone else in the house decided to take a shower while the OP
was diddling around taking meter readings, jumpering water meters, etc. with
the system still live.
The tingling becoming a zapping and then appearing to worsen and spread
throughout the house was, IMHO, clearly a warning that implied great danger.
To that end, a fair number of other respondents recognized that danger
immediately. Once it was clear these were not static shocks, the power
should have been shut off and the power company informed and a professional
summoned. If the OP wanted to poke around the unenergized system with a
flashlight while waiting, that seems pretty unlikely to cause more problems.
From what I've researched about the problem the fault could be external to
the house wiring and affect more than the OP's residence. While he's
fooling around with meters that he may not know how to use properly or
jumpering devices that may have nothing to do with the problem, a neighbor
could be electrocuted because the OP delayed calling the proper authorities.
This is very much *unlike* a clogged dishwasher drain line where there's
little risk in trying to fix the problem other than breaking a pipe nipple
or banging up your hands. A current leak into the plumbing is serious
If you smelled gas in your basement would you go around looking for the
source or call the gas company? Can the average homeowner really compete
with experts who are equipped with sophisticated gas sniffers to detect the
source of even the smallest amount of gas? I know what I would do (and have
done). Call the pros because such cases aren't just home repair issues,
they are potentially life and death ones.
Another point to note is *why* would a water meter ground suddenly fail and
be repairable by jumpering? It just doesn't seem to me to be the first
place to look in a situation like this because it just seems so unlikely
that the meter shunt would suddenly go bad. I would look to recent plumbing
repairs or devices hooked into ground via the water pipes that have failed
and are dumping current into the supply pipes.
Well, I do agree that in such a case it's likely there's a grounding
failure, but that could be in any number of places and from any number of
causes. If the OP wasn't a stinking troll, I would have next asked him what
has changed recently in the house? Was some device added that was grounded
to a water pipe located far from the panel area? Was a new water meter
installed? (It would have to have been by idiots if they failed to shunt the
ground). Was there a plumbing repair made with plastic pipe or fittings?
Did he see linemen working nearby or someone doing excavating?
My suggestion to him involved not touching anything electrical and merely
mapping out any potential points where electricity could be entering the
water supply piping. That was in addition to calling the electric company,
the water company and an electrician because of even the remote possibility
that it's a systemic problem that might be affecting the neighbors.
Mapping out the possible points where electricity is "leaking" might have
helped saved some time for the electrician if it turned out that a failed
device *was* injecting power into the water lines. More importantly, it was
a *completely* passive activity that could be performed by a person of even
low electrical skills. It could be done with the main breaker off and more
importantly without exposing the OP to any kind of shock trying to fix the
problem or diagnose it himself.
So I still strongly stand by that advice rather than recommending the OP
start jumpering water meters, take meter readings without knowing whether
he's working with a good ground, "feel" for tingles or do anything else that
might have had shock risks or complicated or altered the situation for the
professionals who would eventually have to diagnose it.
You must have heard/seen this joke rate card for electricians:
$100 per hour
$125 per hour if you watch
$150 per hour if you tried to fix it yourself
On Mon, 11 Nov 2013 17:47:28 -0500, "Robert Green"
The cost of a breaker IF it failed may still be a bargain if it finds
the problem in 2 minutes instead of spending 2 hours - - -
I've seen it numerous times.
I've had phantom voltage from a cable adaper (cable tv) put enoug
voltage into a TV to give a pretty nasty "tingle" that totally went
away when the TV cable was properly grounded.
Not necessarily. A bit of leakage is almost considered normal on some
electrical equipment - and it may not even BE real leakage - it could
be inductive or capacitive inductance
If you are afraid of the spark or electrocution hazard jumping the
meter, shut off the mains first and jumper it while it is dead.
Years ago, we had a car club in an old chicken barn, which we had clad
with steel siding. We had poured concrete floor in part of it - with
fence wire for re-enforcement. In the "club room" we had a CB radio
base station sitting on top of an old refrigerator.
Every once in a while one of the guys would report getting a "small
shock" when opening the door. We didn't think much of it, untill one
day I was doing some grinding with a hand grinder on a body repair
when my knee touched a spot where the fence wire just poked through
the rough concrete job - and I got a REAL zap. I thought there was a
problem with the grinder, untill I tested it and everything was OK.
THEN I started looking. Ends up the power transformer on the base
station had smoked, and it was pumping 115 volts out the antenna,
which under certain conditions (like rain or heavy dew) shorted with
fairly high resistance to the metal siding - which connected to the
fencewire in the concrete - and found ground through me to the
When I directly grounded the fence wire, it popped the fuse in the
radio, and the voltage went away.
Have you looked at what often passes as the meter shunt?
A clamp made of iron strapping wrapped around the pipe, with the
copper cable bolted to it. Condensation keeps it damp to wet, and the
strap corrodes off the pipe - you get a ground failure. Not suddenly,
but eventually. One day it gets bad enough that it doesn't ground any
That's probably true, although it's advice for the electrically savvy. The
thing I had a hard time researching was how many fault cycles a breaker is
good for. The answers I saw read from "replace it after four trips" (too
conservative, IMO) to "it's good for 100,000 trips." (I think somewhere in
between those two estimates is correct - but where?)
Clearly the latest breaker designs are far more resilient than breakers of
50 years ago, and I only found one instance of a person claiming a breaker
had failed closed. The nuke sub breakers that my dad worked with that
failed often were circa 1963 and were very special-purpose units. Made to
precise government specs, too, and built by the lowest bidder. (-:
I defer to your experience but wonder why it's so common? Apparently the
instructions for such devices call out the need for a ground shunt of some
sort and you'd think water company personnel would be trained to deal with
it after the first dozen times someone got shocked to death <dark humor
I still contend that there's a problem if grounding alone cures it. There
shouldn't be any current leakage in a properly designed and functioning
system, should there? I, too, have been zapped just touching the CATV line
and something metallic at the same time. Considering the skill of the last
two cable jockeys that Comcrap er Comcast sent out, it wouldn't surprise me
if they did something wrong enough to energize the CATV cable with enough
juice to be dangerous.
What types of equipment would do that?
Ouch. In the X-10 world, people unfamiliar with electricity would often
modify their RR501 transceiver modules to try to improve reception by adding
a longer aerial. Unfortunately the design of the unit used capacitive
coupling to attach the antenna - a small copper pad on the inside of the
case that coupled through the plastic to a small copper pad on the outside
that attached to the antenna. People would simply attach a wire to the
inner pad not realizing that it was live at 110VAC. This was a two-pin
device, too. A surprising number of people zapped themselves trying to
extend the (pitiful, generally) range of those devices with an antenna mod.
I burned up an HP Laserjet's control board using an unpolarized three-wire
adapter. I saw a quite respectable spark when I plugged in the printer
cable between the properly connected PC and the improperly connected
Laserjet. No magic smoke escaped, so it was probably an IC or something
relatively smoke-free. (-: Just a dead Laserjet at a time when they cost
*real* money - $2K+ for the LJII with accessories, IIRC.
From what I've been reading, many "tingle" situations are due to internal
defects or failures in items that are connected to ground through means
other than the grounding pin of a grounded receptacle. Strapping pipes with
materials that can corrode from exposure to moisture or cause a galvanic
reaction was an idea whose time has come and mostly gone, and for a number
of disparate reasons.
I think I will take my own advice and review and perhaps rewire any
remaining pipe clamp grounding equipment in the house. They may be
grandfathered into the code, but both my grandfathers are dead and I don't
want to join them. (-:
I'd have to dig up the front yard. I have *never* seen a water meter inside
any home in the US in my 60 plus years, although I am sure they exist. Is
that a Canadian thing because of the colder temps?
I already had a leak coming from galvanic action from a plain old pipe strap
so I don't doubt it's probably a good idea to check stuff like that yearly
or so. Turns out they were copper plated steel straps and mechanical wear
took out the coating and Galvani's discovery did the rest.
My friend added one more:
$100 per hour
$125 per hour if you watch
$150 per hour if you tried to fix it yourself
$200 per hour if you tell us how to fix it (!!!)
Can you imagine a time where there was no electricity anywhere? It's kind
of neat that so many terms we use are actually created from the names of
Scientists whose names are used as SI units
a.. Andr-Marie Ampre
b.. William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin
a.. Henri Becquerel
b.. Anders Celsius
c.. Charles-Augustin de Coulomb
d.. Michael Faraday
e.. Louis Harold Gray
f.. Joseph Henry
g.. Heinrich Hertz
h.. James Prescott Joule
i.. Isaac Newton
j.. Georg Ohm
k.. Blaise Pascal
l.. Werner von Siemens
m.. Rolf Maximilian Sievert
n.. Nikola Tesla
o.. Alessandro Volta
p.. James Watt
q.. Wilhelm Eduard Weber
Bobby G. (Gravity - as in "pulling 10G's" - also finance "I owe him 20G's)
On Sat, 16 Nov 2013 04:03:02 -0500, "Robert Green"
A length of cable, diconnected at both ends and the right length,
orriented the right direction, can pick up quite an inductive charge,
and large capacitors must ALWAYS be stored with a chorting strip or
bleed resistor to prevent them prom picking up a charge.
Canadian and quite a few northern US locations. The meter is inside
with a remote readout strapped to the outside of the house.
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