Ungrounded Main Electrical Panels

Older homes in Edmonton use or once used metal water supply pipes, made of copper, galvanized steel or even lead piping to bring water into the house from the city water main.  If they need to be replaced, these pipes will be replaced with plastic water lines.  (We are talking only about the pipe that carries the water into your house up to the water meter.)  The problem here is that older houses with metal water lines traditionally used the water line as a ground for the main electrical panel.  When a water line used for ground is replaced with plastic, a new ground connection, directly to the ground, will have to installed, or a potentially dangerous situation exists.

Loss of grounding through water line replacement is mainly a concern with older houses.  Newer houses no longer rely on water lines for grounding the electrical panel, and have dedicated ground rods or ground plates buried in the earth.  Proper earth grounding may also be an issue for mobile homes, ‘off the grid’ cabins with generators or solar panels and outbuildings such as detached garages that receive power through a branch circuit.

If you live in an older house where the water line has been replaced with plastic, you need to make sure that your main electrical panel is properly grounded.  An electrician or a qualified and licensed home inspector will be able to tell you if you have a properly grounded main panel if you do not know what to look for.

The picture below is an example of a ground connection for an electrical panel that is no longer a ground connection.  The bare copper wire goes into the main electrical panel and is fastened to the inside of the panel and the neutral wire.  The green wire is a telephone system ground wire.  Both used to be bonded to a probably galvanized incoming water line, since replaced with the green plastic water line that can be seen in the lowest part of the picture.  Neither the electrical panel or telephone system is properly grounded anymore.  A special CSA approved ground plate or ground rod will have to buried at least 600 mm deep in the soil and connected to the neutral bus in the main electrical panel to correct this situation. The existing ground wires will need to be bonded, that is, electrically connected to the metal box of the electrical panel using a ground screw inside the panel.



There! I fixed it

ducttapSo you have had your home inspection, and the report says “recommend repair by qualified contractor”.

Your neighbour says “I watched a guy do that once, lets get some beers and do it this weekend”.

“Done it myself” is how home inspectors earn their fees.  Badly done, poorly planned renovations are what keeps us writing many pages of deficiencies.  Before you do it yourself you need to have a good understanding of what you are going to be messing with. Do yourself a favour and take advantage of the many resources available to you.

Do you know why and how plumbing should be vented?  Do you know the difference between a white wire, red wire, black wire and a green wire?  Can you locate the bearing walls in your house?  Should you be using valley flashing, and where should you be putting it?
The internet is probably the best resource for information provided you are good at sorting  the pepper from the fly poop.  Your library, building supply store, sites such as Alberta Municipal Affairs Safety Code page, the bookstores in one of Alberta’s colleges where trades are taught,  your local continuing education council have books, videos and courses for do it your-selfers.  College bookstores and  bookstores that specialize in technical subjects are good places to find resources that are used by professionals.

You need to keep in mind that there is no substitute for experience.  A professional who is able to keep food on the table doing what they do, will do it faster and better, and sometimes even cheaper than you can do it yourself.  Some tasks are easier than others. Your personal talents abilities and skills are unique to you,  you will be able to do some things better than others.

Here is my personal list of things that I will reach the phone next time.

Roofing –   If you like Iron Man competitions, you will love roofing.

Tasks requiring trowels – If you have trouble walking a straight line without spilling your coffee, stay far far away from anything involving cement, plaster or mudding and taping drywall.

Choosing  proportioned, pleasing designs and colour combinations.  If you love your green, purple and orange plaid socks, maybe call a friend for a second opinion before ordering any shade of paint other than off white.


How long will it last?

The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI)  have posted a chart with estimated life spans here.  These estimates are reasonable and fairly accurate for Edmonton housing, tending toward the worst case, once your stuff has reached the end of its life estimate on this chart, it will probably still be working, but you will need to to keep an eye on it, and you should be budgeting for replacement.