Many older homes eventually need their plumbing redone. Over time, pipes deteriorate and need to be replaced. Replacing the pipes in a home that was built in the 1940s, however, usually requires more than calling the local plumber. If you own a 1940s home, you'll want to call an electrical contractor who can check the home's ground before you ask a plumber to take out all the current pipes and put in new ones. If you don't, your home might lose its electrical ground.
All Homes Need Electrical Grounds
All homes need to be grounded, or else they're at an increased risk of catching on fire. An electrical ground is a safety precaution that guards against short circuits.
Should a home's electrical system short circuit, the electrical system will go to the ground via the shortest and easiest past possible. In properly wired homes, this is through a ground that directs the excess electricity into the ground (hence the device's name). In homes that aren't properly grounded, a short circuit will send electricity to the ground through something else, which could be the walls, furniture, electronics or even you. In many cases, the excessive electrical current running through these items could cause a fire kill you.
Homes in the 1940s Were Grounded Through Their Plumbing
Today, homes are typically grounded by a wire that goes into the ground. In the 1940s, though, it was common practice to ground homes through their piping.
In the 1940s, homes were frequently built with copper plumbing. Copper pipes were first available to residential builder in the 1920s, but it wasn't until the 1940s that copper became widely adopted as the go-to material for pipes. By the 1950s, though, copper was already becoming less common as PVC became the preferred choice. Thus, while copper pipes may be found in any home built between 1920 and today, they're most often found in houses constructed during the 1940s.
Because homes built in the 1940s often had all-copper piping, electrical contractors were able to ground homes' entire electrical systems through their plumbing. After all, copper conducts electricity well, and a copper system of pipes would be just as effective as a copper wire at grounding a home. Water inside the pipes wouldn't cause any problems with the ground, since electricity also goes through water without an issue.
New Pipes Aren't Designed to be Grounds
Copper is used both in plumbing and electrical work today, but it's used sparingly because it's expensive. Few homes today are built with all-copper plumbing. Instead, plumbers use pipes that don't conduct electricity, such as the following:
- polyvinyl chloride pipes (PVC pipes), which are used to carry wastewater
- chlorinated polyvinyl chloride pipes (CPVC pipes), which are used for water supplies
- cross-linked polyethelene pipes (PEX pipes), which are used for water supply lines
Because plumbers don't usually use copper throughout an entire house today, plumbing systems installed now shouldn't be used as grounds for electrical systems. Even if just one copper pipe is replaced with a non-conductive pipe of another material, the ground could be broken.
Therefore, if you own a home that was constructed during the 1940s and are updating its plumbing, you'll likely have to also have an electrical contractor from a company like Beckstoffer-Welsh Inc install a ground. Running a ground wire may be a pricey proposition, but it's much cheaper than letting your home burn down. If your home is currently grounded through copper plumbing, having an electrical contractor re-ground it before replacing the plumbing is the only way to ensure that your house is properly grounded, and your family is still safe.