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Old 05-16-2017, 04:39 PM   #1
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Default Water line used as system ground.

Is it a common practice in residential to use the water line as a system ground instead of ground rods?
I ran into this the other day.

We got a call from a worker who was in a crawl space under a house and got dinged. He had touched the system ground and the wet dirt at the same time.

Electrician went to check it out. Worker put a volt tick in the wet dirt and it indicated voltage.
Electrician checked the system ground connection to the water line. It was loose and corroded. So he replaced the ground clamp and attached the system ground. Volt tick no longer indicated voltage. Unfortunately Electrician didn't check for voltage differential before attaching the ground wire.

All seemed good until I asked electrician to check for amperage on the system ground. There was 0.5A. Furnace kicked in and amperage went to about 2.5A.
Connections in panel good, neutral and system ground bonded together.

Poco checked connections in meter and redid splices on pole and at mast.
No change, still have amps.
Shut main off, still have amps.
Went to neighbors outside plug and plugged in a saw.
Amperage in first house ground wire goes up to 4A.

My take on it:
When the current returns to the panel and gets to where the ground and neutral are bonded it has two parallel paths. It can go up the neutral (Where it's supposed to) or it can go down the system ground, through the water line, to the water main, through the water main, up the neighbors water line, to the system ground, and up to the neutral to the pole.

Isn't this kinda dangerous?
What effect would this have on everyone's power bill?
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Old 05-16-2017, 04:48 PM   #2
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There is always a parallel path through the GES as you describe, I think it's just that the resistance of the ground path is so much higher than the near-zero resistance of the service neutral that it should be very very small.

I think the strongest clue is that the ground current is much higher at the neighbor's, that would indicate to me that the bonding and / or neutral issue is in that neighbor's system.

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Old 05-16-2017, 05:41 PM   #3
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All amp readings were taken at the first house.
We didn't have access to neighbors.
Current on a house system ground IMO should be very close to zero.

Quick recap.
Plug saw into neighbors outside recept. and turn it on.
Amperage on the system ground at first house goes from .5 to 4 or so
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Old 05-16-2017, 05:48 PM   #4
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Bingo.
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Old 05-16-2017, 05:54 PM   #5
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Yes it's normal to use the city water pipe as system ground.
Yes, the parallel path you described is there.
Some time back I posted an engineering paper describing this
uncontrolled current passing beneath our feet.The author saw
it as risk that should be addressed. Whether the author was
correct or not, this system is unlikely to change. The existing
system is the cheapest way to protect the transmission equipment
against lightning strikes. And yes, no matter what they say, the
system grounding on each premise is there to protect the poco
equipment and nothing more.
P&L
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Old 05-16-2017, 05:57 PM   #6
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There's a good chance the neighbor has an open neutral.
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Old 05-16-2017, 06:02 PM   #7
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P&L, so if the home owner pounded a couple of ground rods,
The amperage from the neighbors house would no longer be present.
Correct?
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Old 05-16-2017, 06:06 PM   #8
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Around here, the copper water line is considered the primer ground. Ground rods are secondary.
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Old 05-16-2017, 06:11 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ELECTRICK2 View Post
P&L, so if the home owner pounded a couple of ground rods,
The amperage from the neighbors house would no longer be present.
Correct?
Very likely would be reduced as the earth resistance would almost
certainly be much higher than that of the city plumbing. On the
other hand, cities are full of multi-grounded neutrals on plumbing
without rampant death. BTW, this sort of thing is most dangerous to
our 4 legged cloven hoofed friends.

If you want to know a lot more about this, find the pdf below. I haven't
read it in a few years but it really helps anyone who wants to better
understand our distribution system.
P&L
http://www.ecs.csun.edu/~bruno/Multi...nal_4-17-7.pdf

edit: btw, I always prefer gnd plates to rods, but that's just me.
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Old 05-16-2017, 06:15 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PlugsAndLights View Post
Yes it's normal to use the city water pipe as system ground.
Yes, the parallel path you described is there.
Some time back I posted an engineering paper describing this
uncontrolled current passing beneath our feet.The author saw
it as risk that should be addressed. Whether the author was
correct or not, this system is unlikely to change. The existing
system is the cheapest way to protect the transmission equipment
against lightning strikes. And yes, no matter what they say, the
system grounding on each premise is there to protect the poco
equipment and nothing more.

P&L
Fundamentally wrong.

Grounding protects equipment multiple ways:

1) It 'hides' the structure from lightning strikes by making it an element of an equipotential plane.

2) It discharges switching transients -- the critters that are driving e-men nuts WRT LED drivers causing strobing effects.

But these transients are capable of injuring insulators/ dielectrics/ at every turn. Brief. Low evergy. High voltage.

3) Should a transformer go wrong, it is ESSENTIAL that the excess energy be bled off into the earth.

The death of an IBEW brother, in 1945, triggered this discovery the hardest way possible -- and the establishment of EUSERC.

BTW, it was MUCH to the astonishment of the EE community that such a situation could possibly exist.

It was beaten to DEATH, BTW.

The tale of EUSERC has been written up in the trades a couple of times.
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Old 05-16-2017, 06:21 PM   #11
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P&L, thanks. the reason I asked is I was never involved much in resi.
All commercial jobs I did, used ground rods, pilings etc for the system ground.

I thought this way of getting a system ground was iffy simply because of the electrical code.
Thou shall bond once and only once.
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Old 05-16-2017, 06:53 PM   #12
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The neighbor's neutral current is returning via your customer's water line.
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Old 05-16-2017, 07:01 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RePhase277 View Post
The neighbor's neutral current is returning via your customer's water line.
If by this you mean - a portion of the neighbour's neutral current
is returning via your customer's water line with the amount determined
by each of the parallel resistances, including any other customers on
the same transformer, and this is normal and expected - then I agree.
P&L
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Old 05-16-2017, 07:10 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RePhase277 View Post
The neighbor's neutral current is returning via your customer's water line.
Yes, a portion of it is, depending on the resistance of each path.
Which is what P&L was getting at.

Apparently I didn't splain myself very well.
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Old 05-16-2017, 07:18 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RePhase277 View Post
The neighbor's neutral current is returning via your customer's water line.

Just noticed you liked the idea that the neighbor has a bad neutral.
That's not it.

First house system ground amperage goes up when first house furnace turns on.
Where does this current go if neighbor has a bad neutral?
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Old 05-16-2017, 07:18 PM   #16
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I think if your customer puts in more ground rods, it will lower the resistance of the path through your customer's GES for their neighbor's neutral current, and they'll see MORE current on ground.

I am not sure why your customer's furnace increased the current on ground if it's only a neighbor problem, maybe something at / in the transformer.
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Old 05-16-2017, 07:29 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by splatz View Post
I think if your customer puts in more ground rods, it will lower the resistance of the path through your customer's GES for their neighbor's neutral current, and they'll see MORE current on ground.

I am not sure why your customer's furnace increased the current on ground if it's only a neighbor problem, maybe something at / in the transformer.
Only if this was added without removing the system ground from the
plumbing. Only way it makes sense is if it's one or the other.
P&L
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Old 05-16-2017, 07:39 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by splatz View Post
I think if your customer puts in more ground rods, it will lower the resistance of the path through your customer's GES for their neighbor's neutral current, and they'll see MORE current on ground.

I am not sure why your customer's furnace increased the current on ground if it's only a neighbor problem, maybe something at / in the transformer.

Splatz, I am not suggesting more ground rods.
There are no ground rods.

I suggest disconnecting ground from the water line
Pound a ground rod and hook up your system ground.

It's not a neighbor problem.
It's not a problem at first house.

The problem arises because we basically have a neutral bonded at 2 (Or more) points.
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Old 05-16-2017, 07:42 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ELECTRICK2 View Post
Just noticed you liked the idea that the neighbor has a bad neutral.
That's not it.

First house system ground amperage goes up when first house furnace turns on.
Where does this current go if neighbor has a bad neutral?
To yet another neighbor. Surely there are more than two houses on the water line?

It's possible that there's a bad neutral at a transformer somewhere and this water line is acting as a sort of neutral bus for the whole neighborhood.
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Old 05-16-2017, 07:44 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ELECTRICK2 View Post
Splatz, I am not suggesting more ground rods.
There are no ground rods.

I suggest disconnecting ground from the water line
Pound a ground rod and hook up your system ground.

It's not a neighbor problem.
It's not a problem at first house.

The problem arises because we basically have a neutral bonded at 2 (Or more) points.
The thing is, if you have 10 feet or more of metal water line in contact with the earth, it MUST BE used as the grounding electrode, supplemented by rods.
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