Shocked!

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How can I be getting shocked off my faucet? This happens only in my bathroom & laundry tub downstairs. It's not all the time, but it's a good enough zap to make you jump.
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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.
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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?
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Bobby G.





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Robert Green wrote:

All good questions. Hopefully, the OP (Fred) will reply back.
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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.
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Ok, this is way weird. I just was going to replace a toilet flapper. I went to turn the shut off valve, and got zapped, big time!
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Fred wrote:

appliance is grounded to your plumbing. As has been suggested, get a professional to isolate the problem before someone gets hurt!
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On 10/27/2013 03:19 PM, Bill wrote:

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!
nate
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wrote:

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 fixes it.
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On 10/27/2013 06:52 PM, snipped-for-privacy@snyder.on.ca 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?)
nate
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<stuff snipped>

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.
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<stuff snipped>

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. (-:
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On Fri, 1 Nov 2013 22:56:37 -0400, "Robert Green"

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 situation is.

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.
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On Saturday, November 2, 2013 10:31:45 AM UTC-4, snipped-for-privacy@attt.bizz 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.
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<stuff snipped>

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.
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On Fri, 1 Nov 2013 21:30:47 -0400, "Robert Green"

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 problem.

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 -
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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 attenuation.
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?
http://www.mikeholt.com/mojonewsarchive/GB-HTML/HTML/Neutral-to-GroundConnections~20020521.htm 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 amount.

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 electrocution.
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 combination.
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 items.

<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 bad idea.
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 business.
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
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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 grounded grinder. 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 more ---

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<stuff snipped>

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 alert>.

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?
<stuff snipped>

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 great inventors:
Scientists whose names are used as SI units
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_scientists_whose_names_are_used_as_SI_units
Base units a.. Andr-Marie Ampre b.. William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin Derived units 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
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Bobby G. (Gravity - as in "pulling 10G's" - also finance "I owe him 20G's)
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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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