Mild electric shock in the shower

paudemgeMay 3, 2007

It seems like just last night and today, there is a mild electric shock when taking a shower. If you touch the handle you may (or may not) feel a small electric shock. What could cause this? It seems like if it was a bare wire touching the pipe, it would be a great shock. It has been raining outside for a couple of days, and the ground is soaked, in case that has anything to do with it

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paudemge

How should i hook up my meter to register any voltage?

    Bookmark   May 3, 2007 at 11:01AM
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DavidR

Do you have an electric water heater? It might have a damaged element.

Use a neon test light, not a DMM. A DMM is actually too sensitive. Connect one probe to a known good ground (we hope that will be the cover screw on a receptacle). Probe with the other.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2007 at 3:06PM
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bus_driver

What is your plumbing piping? Copper, perhaps? What is the age of the entire installation?

    Bookmark   May 3, 2007 at 3:38PM
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paudemge

The water heater is gas.
I'm not sure if it is copper or not, but the house is over 30 years old.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2007 at 8:46PM
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groundrod

Since this is a DIY forum I will not tell you to call an electrician, but if you choose not to maybe you should call your life insurance agent because I believe you must have a licence to sell insurance. ( Does this seem strange that anyone is free to kill themselves doing electrical work without fear of prosicution, while you would face jail time for selling insurance without a license.)

Maybe it really should be DYI (do yourself in).

    Bookmark   May 4, 2007 at 9:01AM
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DavidR

I suspect you have a grounding problem. My guess is that the plumbing system is not properly bonded to the electrical system ground. Make sure that there is a copper ground wire from the main panel to the water main within 5' of where it enters the house. Metallic drain pipe should be bonded to the ground system. I think metallic gas pipe is also supposed to be bonded (someone correct me if I'm wrong about that). The bonding jumper across the water heater inlet and outlet must be intact. Isolated sections of metallic pipe (such as those separated by PVC pipe or dielectric unions) should be bonded to the remainder of the metallic system. Check all the ground clamps for tightness and corrosion.

I'm definitely not a grounding expert. It's a complex subject and it takes an electrical engineer to really understand it. But from what I understand, there are many possible sources of stray voltage on a ground system. They include leakage current in appliances and "bootleg" grounds (connecting the third pin of a receptacle to neutral to fool an inspector's test device). A loose connection might be involved, even in a neighbor's house.

It's not unusual to measure significant voltage difference between two different ground rods. In such cases proper bonding is about all you can do.

This is probably a job for an experienced electrician, not a DIY unless you have a fair bit of background in electrical principles.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2007 at 6:11PM
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brickeyee

"I think metallic gas pipe is also supposed to be bonded...

The equipment ground for whatever item could electrify the gas piping is allowed to serve as the bond.
If there is nothing that could electrify the gas lines (pretty rare) some jurisdictions want them bonded.

Gas lines may not be used as part of the grounding electrode system, and there is the problem.
Once the lines are bonded they ARE part of the system since the current does not 'know' it is not supposed to follow that path.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2007 at 3:21PM
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joeplumb

Could be an ungrounded pipe to the shower touching an open neutral. As soon as you get this "tingle", I would get get a voltmeter and read between the shower hardware and a wall outlet ground .

If this postulate were true, with a digital voltmeter you would read a substantial voltage; with an analog voltmater you would read subsatantially lower.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2007 at 8:56PM
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dim4fun

I believe you all sort of said this but typicaly this type of shock is caused by a circuit or appliance that has ground faulted but is not properly grounded and the electricity is making its way around where ever it can. I've seen current flow through plaster to get to plumbing when an ungrounded kitchen vent fan failed. It it were grounded properly it would trip the breaker instead.

A bad feeder neutral can cause some very interesting stray currents. Once a customer complained about mild shocks when swimming near the pool light and it turned out to be a burned neutral connection for the home in the utility vault down the street. The entire neutral current flow of the home was finding another way back to the utility ground.

You must get a qualified trouble shooter out to your home immediately. The first quick thing to do is to clamp the neutral wire and make sure it has the proper amount of current flow, the unbalanced or difference between the two hot legs. Then move on to other things.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2007 at 1:48PM
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jakethewonderdog

Just a question that we should probably cover:

You haven't done anything to anger your wife recently have you? Has she said anything about an insurance policy that she might have purchased recently did she?

Just checkin'

    Bookmark   May 6, 2007 at 4:27PM
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paudemge

Someone is finally coming out today.
I did do some checking but didn't really come up with anything.
The only time i can feel the shock is if i have an open wound. If a scrape or cut on my hand touches the incoming pipe or metal part of the handle, i can feel a mild shock. But if i touch it normally i don't feel it. Also i have to be in some water in the tub to feel it at all.
I took a volt meter and read 2.5 volts between the drain pipe and the tub spout.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2007 at 11:32AM
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paudemge

I measured the voltage between the outside water faucet and the ground at 4.5 volts.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2007 at 12:54PM
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DavidR

You have some funny stuff going on with grounding there. Not saying this will happen to you, but I've read of weird situations with stray ground currents caused by compromised underground cables, improper grounds in other homes or commercial operations, and the like. These can be tough to find. Sometimes the poco has to get involved, and some are more helpful than others.

I have many years of DIY electrical work under my belt and I'd be hesitant to tackle such a situation as yours. If your electrician can't find the problem, you may have to get someone with an electrical engineering degree and experience troubleshooting these problems.

Let us know how you make out.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2007 at 2:35PM
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nairobi_jones

I have the same problem with my shower. I, too, feel a tingling, but only when the shower has been on for a few minutes. Sometimes it is so light, you can feel it only on a cut, but sometimes you can really feel it pretty well. Kind of like touching an electric fence. My landlord has checked it out, but found nothing. He had an electrician and the electrical inspector over, and I had code enforcement, but none of them could find anything. They can't even get a reading that there is any current in my shower. I am not an idiot--I can feel it at the shower handle and shower head. My son has even felt it. My landlord said he has done everything he can. He told me if I keep feeling it, maybe I should move. I am in no position to move, but I am afraid to get in my shower. I don't want to sound stupid, but does anyone know how much of an electrocution hazard this poses? I shower at my mother's or at the kitchen sink now. Please help.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2008 at 8:51PM
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kalining

Re-gas pipe grounding. Using a gas pipe for a hydro ground up here is not legel or allowed. Our gas pipe has cathodic protection. Where the meter is connected to the service pipe from the street there is a complete insulating plastic and rubber bushing making the inside house pipe completely insulated from the electrified pipe of the service. Even if you did connect a ground to the inside gas pipe it wouldn't work.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2008 at 12:20PM
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joefixit2

I think you are getting grounding and bonding confused. We DO bond the interior gas piping, we DO NOT bond to the street side of the gas piping system. It is not for grounding purposes, it is for bonding purposes.

In the case of the OP, there is a problem that needs to be located and fixed, be it a hot conductor or a neutral. Trying to make the problem go away by grounding and bonding everything is the wrong approach, the problem should be located and eliminated.

My guess is a failing neutral connection somewhere. It's definately a situation that calls for an expert.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2008 at 11:30PM
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billhart

Whatever is going on, I don't see that you could cause any new problems, and you may help the one you have, by better bonding of the piping.

Try connecting a piece of wire between the water pipe and the drain pipe under that bathtub or shower. Since this isn't a required bond, you don't need to be licensed to add it.

Even if this fixes the immediate situation, it would be good to have a pro look things over to make sure there wasn't another gotcha lurking in the house.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 10:51AM
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kalining

You wouldn't happen to be on a well, would you ? A shorted to ground ( water ) pump motor will cause that.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 11:10AM
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spencer_electrician

"Pass ground wires around" Perhaps the electricians didn't correct the issue correctly. Perhaps this wire they passed around was tied into a water pipe that is not bonded to ground. Not saying for sure they did something wrong. Just the code way to add grounding would have been to replace the wiring. There are code allowed ways to add a grounding wire but there are strict requirements as to how it is done and where it terminates, usually making it worth while to just replace the wiring all together. Aside from that, check for voltage by taking a volt meter from the faucet to the neutral or ground of a near by outlet. If 120 is present, that is dangerous. Or check voltage between the tub/ drain and the faucet, there could be an electrical flow there. Properly bonded water pipes take this issue away but the source of the problem needs to be resolved as well.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2009 at 12:26AM
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texasredhead

I hesitate to get involved in this. To begin, an electrical engineer is not an electrician. When we ground an electrical system, we start out with at least one 8' copper rod driven in the ground relatively as close to the panel as possible. The ground goes from the panel to the ground rod. On the other end we ground to the cold water side of the hot water heater. It is absolutly illegal to ground to a gas pipe.

Now, the OP did not indicate if any one in the house is experiencing the same small shock or whether he/she is the only one who uses the shower in question. Some people are more prone to static electricity that others especially during colder months when gas heat dries out a house.

OP did not indicate if there is an lighting in the shower or what electrical connections may be in a room adjactent to the bath.

A number of years ago we would receive a small shock when wiping the counter top between the back of the sink and the back splash when coming in contact with the faucet. There is a receptacle under the sink for the disposer. Being an electrician, I pulled the receptacle out and found the box and the wiring was in contact with the plumbing that feeds the sink. Once I moved the metal box and the receptacle away from the plumbing I had no further problem.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2009 at 9:48AM
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Ron Natalie

JoeFixit is the closest. There's a difference between the grounding electrode system (which is often ground rods and water piping as it comes into the building) and BONDING requirements. Earlier codes required all METAL piping to be bonded. It was changed a few cycles ago to exempt gas piping. It is neither required nor illegal to bond such as far as the later NECs are concerned.

As for Texas's anecdote. As an electrician I would have tried to figure out why the metal box itself, which was to be grounded, was managing to conduct any current when it was connected to the also supposed to be bonded plumbing.
It sounds like you've got a ground-to-neutral fault somewhere.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2009 at 10:39AM
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texasredhead

Not any more!

    Bookmark   January 22, 2009 at 2:47PM
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maryland_irisman

I've seen this before, you may want to get your utility company involved. It sounds alot like it could be at the transformer if you have buried cable.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2009 at 10:13PM
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billhart

Irisman, I don't understand what utility problem would wind up giving shocks in the shower.

If the required bonding and grounding have been done for the electrical panel, the next step is to be sure the water pipes and drain pipes are bonded to each other near the shower. In most cases this is unnecessary but if it is a nonmetallic enclosure/tub and there are some but not all plastic pipes involved you might find it will help. Then even if there are potential differences between those and other objects, there won't be differences that you will put yourself across while showering.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2009 at 11:57PM
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gblentz
;D
    Bookmark   January 23, 2009 at 2:12AM
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texasredhead

Uh, is the question about cleaning tile?

    Bookmark   January 23, 2009 at 12:28PM
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pjb999

LOL I think it's a badly photoshopped electric heater and, to the upper left, light switches also photoshopped into the picture of the shower. Otherwise I have no idea.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2009 at 1:55PM
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pharkus

Grrr...

Yes that's a photoshopped photo, it's been posted here before, or maybe I saw it on ECN...

My old solution for grounding/bonding (before I knew better) was wrong, technically, but worked pretty well: When in doubt, ground everything to each other. If you choose to tie your shower supply pipes to your drain pipe, that's your decision, not mine. It would eliminate the shock risk, but is still ignoring the true underlying problem. AC is getting to one of your pipes somehow, and the best solution, in all honesty, is to figure out where and resolve it.

OP: Grab your voltmeter and measure for AC voltage between the shower drain and the shower head, while the water is on. You might have to extend one of the probes with a piece of wire to reach both. How you're going to do this without getting your meter wet is your own mental exercise.

If you don't find AC voltage, look for DC voltage.

Also try taking a shower with the power to the building turned off, provided you can get your neighbors to cooperate.

Since you're apparently living in an apartment building, let's not forget the possibility that it could be a neighbor's electrical service/system causing your problem.

Heck, it could be some freckle-faced punk kid next door wrapping a stripped extension cord around HIS shower head. Unlikely, but technically possible.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2009 at 3:18PM
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joefixit2

pharkus I am going to have to respectfully disagree with you. There is no way you can possibly know if he has freckles or not.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2009 at 8:16PM
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gblentz

>Yes that's a photoshopped photo, it's been posted here before....

Sorry, considering the topic, I couldn't resist dredging it back up.

>LOL I think it's a badly photoshopped electric heater

Hey, badly?? Not my fault Google didn't give me better source material to work with... and believe me, I looked. I thought it turned out pretty dang good, considering. ;-)

Paudemge:

>I took a volt meter and read 2.5 volts between the drain pipe and the tub spout.

I'm grasping here, and it's quite late for me to try to be coherent, but...

It may be that the rain altered the electrical potential between your grounded water system and your DWV system, if the two aren't bonded (2.5 volts seems within the realm of possibility).

A wound would also have substantially less electrical resistance, owing to electrolytes (salt, et. al, contained in bodily fluids) facilitating much better conduction, than rinsed skin.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2009 at 2:55AM
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countryboymo

Don't make the neighbor kid angry.. he could use a taser.

I would have to figure that one out or if I was in an apartment building I would demand it be figured out and fixed. I don't like the tingles.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2009 at 10:40AM
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maryland_irisman

Billhart......With all due respect.....It happens, it's been posted in this forum several times in the past as well as others on the web......read dim4fun's post above.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2009 at 9:46PM
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maryland_irisman

This phenominum is known as stray current and is a serious problem throughout the U.S. I'm not an alarmist but I think more people should know this....there are things you can do to protect yourself from this sort of thing.... http://www.awea.org/faq/sagrillo/ms_strayvoltage_0406.html ................ http://www.mikeholt.com/documents/strayvoltage/word/ElectricalShockShower1-25-99-1-27-00Rev1.doc ............http://74.125.47.132/search?q=cache:CkRtBk2-ZJAJ:www.pge.com/includes/docs/pdfs/about/news/outagestatus/powerquality/power_quality_bulletin-issue_no.2_stray_volt.pdf+utility+company+stray+voltages&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=35&gl=us

    Bookmark   January 25, 2009 at 10:46PM
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