Help electric charge on copper pipe

jay1971September 24, 2013

This is strange we just purchased this place, so yesterday my wife said the lights in the bathroom started blinking very bad, we I got home I noticed it too. I went to the panel and started turning off breakers until I found which one was at fault. It was the water heater so I went in to check it out, it is in a closet area and very close confined space with both copper and PVC pipes. When I went to check the bottom element my screw driver made an arc on the copper pipe so it was the hot water heater arcing against the cooper pipe. I could see where it had been rubbing against the pipe. What would be the cause? I have never seen anything like this. I put a barrier between the heater and the copper pipes but I am concerned as to why a pipe would have an electrical charge on it. By the way power was off to the heater at the time this happened.

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Ron Natalie

Eh? Have it looked at by a professional. The elements are at the line voltage potential. IT's not surprising that you made an arc (you're lucky you didn't kill yourself).

If the water pipes themselves aren't at ground potential you have two problems:

1. Something bad has failed inside the unit.
2. Your system isn't bonded properly.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2013 at 1:30PM
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If the screwdriver arced while the break for the WH was off, that means the issues is elsewhere and the line for the heater was just completing the circuit.

I would check the copper pipe to ground and see the voltage potential, then switch off breakers to see what is shorted to ground (similar to the previous method).

It also seems like your house's earth ground has been disconnected. It is either a long pole hammered into the ground and jumpered, or the (cold) water pipes. If solely using the (cold) water pipes, there is likely a jumper missing someplace which is breaking the path to 'earth'.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2013 at 2:49PM
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Most likely the problem is a loose neutral at the service or a ground fault in the water heater, perhaps an element. Either one is a serious problem requiring immediate correction. The hazard to both life and property is great.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2013 at 5:34PM
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