Friday, July 5, 2013

Ground Rod Installation: Pulling a Half-Sunk Rod

<<< PREV: Installation

This worked great for the first rod at the corner.  But with the second rod, I hit something solid with the rod still about 18" out of the ground.  Being as it was very close to the foundation, I assumed I hit the footer and no amount of pounding was going to accomplish anything but bend the rod.

I was left with the following possibilities:
  1. Abandon the rod, cut it off below grade, buy a new one and try in another location.
  2. Hack off the top 18" of the rod and beg forgiveness from the County Electrical inspector.
  3. Pull the rod and try again.
I'd be lying if I said the thought didn't cross my mind to just go for #2 and maybe hope the inspector wouldn't be picky about it.  But even if they let it slide, I would always know that my grounding was just that little bit less then what code (and good practice) would call for.  For me, that was unacceptable.  As was #1, which though it would have done no harm and been a minimal cost it just grated me on principle.

So the challenge was removing a ground rod that was six and a half feet in the ground.

I tried pulling with hand to no avail.  Friction is an amazing thing.  I considered prying it out, but those rods are real smooth and there was nothing on the rod for the claw of my pry bar to grab on to.

The Solution
Pulling the ground rod out of the ground required three items:
I used a size 016 worm screw clamp for this.  This is about
as large as you can use to clamp securely to a 5/8" rod.
The nut takes a 5/16" hex drive.
  1. Pry bar - I used a 24" wrecking bar.
  2. Piece of wood - I used a short length of 2x10 that I had left over from some deck framing.  Any solid piece of material would work for this, so long as it can be easily positioned near the ground rod and withstand the stress of being a point of leverage for the pry bar.
  3. Worm screw clamp - these come in numerous different sizes but the key here is simply that it needs to be small enough to clamp securely to the ground rod.
The steps to removal are as follows:
  1. Slip the clamp over the top of the ground rod and to a position about 2 inches above the top of the wood.  Just need to have enough space there to let the claw of the pry bar grab the screw housing on the clamp.
  2. Set the claw end of the pry bar (that's the short end of the "L") under the screw housing on the clamp. You'll be pulling on the long end to give yourself maximum leverage.
  3. Pry up against the clamp, using the wood to keep the bend in the pry bar from sinking into the surrounding earth.  Since the screw housing on the clamp is pretty small, you'll only be able to pull a little bit before you'll lose leverage.  Chances are the rod will twist and you'll need to reposition the clamp occasionally.  The hard part is overcoming the initial "grip" that has the rod stuck in the ground (an effort that will be dictated by how difficult it was to get it buried that far in the first place).
  4. Keep at it and you should notice the rod coming out of the ground an inch or so at a time.  You may need to disengage the clamp and drop it a couple inches to get your leverage back after you've noticed some movement.  If the clamp is slipping along the rod, it's not tight enough.
  5. Repeat #4 until the rod starts coming out more easily.  Check the rod occasionally by pulling up on it by hand.  Eventually you'll just be able to pull it out of the ground.
Next time, I tried pushing the rod into the ground a couple inches out farther from the house.  Once I had the tip about 6" deep, I pushed the exposed rod up against the house so the end going into the ground was bent about 10 degrees away from the foundation.  I pushed down on the exposed end of the rod while holding the high side against the house to maintain the angle away from the foundation.  Once pushing by hand became too difficult, I used the hammer to send it home.  Success!

Granted, I was extremely lucky to be working with such soft soil and this approach might not be as effective in more difficult soils.  But if you find yourself stuck with a half-buried ground rod like I did, give it a shot.  Worst case, a plea for leniency to your local Electrical Inspector (followed by a messy session with a hacksaw) is often a plausible Plan B.

Ground Rod Installation: Installation

<<< PREV: Gather Your Materials

Various techniques for installing ground rods are all over the internet, all employing a variety of tools from sledgehammers to small jackhammers with special attachments.  I was very lucky that where I live the soil is soft and silty, which meant that I was able to push them in by hand for about the first five feet.  A 3-lb engineers hammer was then sufficient to pound the rod to within six inches of complete burial.  At this point, I connected the 6 AWG bare copper grounding conductor, and then finished off the job with the hammer.

Good luck!  But if you get stuck half-way and find yourself banging until the top of your ground rod resembles a small mushroom, you've probably hit something that no amount of banging is going to get out of the way.  Put down the hammer, step away from the ground rod, have a refreshing beverage, and read on...

NEXT: Pulling a Half-Sunk Rod >>>

Ground Rod Installation: Gather Your Materials

For my situation, code requires two 5/8" copper ground rods, eight feet long, set into the ground at least six feet apart.  Even though my existing electrical system was already properly grounded, consultation with the County Electrical Permits office clarified that I was going to need to install two new rods.  They don't last forever, and being that my house is 30 years old who knows what shape the old rods were in, so for the marginal cost for two copper plated aluminum rods (about $11.50 each) I was happy to make sure that my new panel had new, fresh grounding.

Properly installed, a ground rod will be completely buried in the earth.  This is important for three key reasons:
  1. Depending on location, a protruding ground rod can pose a safety risk due to tripping or, worse, minor impalement if you manage to fall on it.
  2. A protruding ground rod will be subject to damage if you hit it with a lawnmower or weed trimmers, not to mention potential damage to the ground rod itself, along with the crucial conductor back to your distribution panel.
  3. While uncommon, it is not impossible for the ground rod to carry a charge, especially if there are undetected shorts somewhere in the household electrical system.  Exposed copper + electricity = BAD.

How To Install a Ground Rod

Grounding is a crucial part of a residential electrical system.  Simply put, proper grounding provides a path of least resistance to discharge rogue electrical surges that would otherwise pose an electrocution hazard to people coming in contact with electrical appliances, switches, or even water lines in a house.  Such surges in a residential electrical system could occur from lighting or short-circuits in electrical appliances or in the household wiring itself.

Proper grounding is, of course, a standard procedure in installing new electrical service when a house is build and not something that the average homeowner has to mess with.  But we here at cater to the non-average homeowner that does things like upgrade their electrical distribution panels themselves.  In such cases, you'll want to replace your grounding.  Ground rods don't last forever and if your panel has been around long enough that the time has come to upgrade it, chances are your ground rods aren't exactly in prime condition anymore, either.  Upgrading residential electrical service while using old ground rods makes about as much sense as keeping the tires from your old car to put on your new one.  Even if your local electrical inspector doesn't require you to upgrade the grounding, you'd be well served to do it anyway.  It may be a little extra work, but the cost is minimal, and the safety of having fresh grounding will give you the peace of mind that the job is done right.

NEXT: Gather Your Materials >>>

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence Day 2013

As our country celebrates its 237th birthday, HouseOfDIY will seize the opportunity to do something fun around the house.  We have worked hard, and now we shall play hard.  For today, we celebrate our independence as well.

"Independence" - consider the meaning of that word.  Simply, it means "the state of not being dependent".  For America, it means the time when our founding fathers made the bold declaration that America was no longer a British colony, and would chart it's own course into the future.  Thankfully, we've since kissed and made up and today consider the Brits our good friends in the global community.  Still, even though American culture would have been quite dull without the UK influences of Led Zeppelin, Doctor Who, Top Gear UK, Elizabeth Hurley, and Harry Potter, it's nice not to have to report our activities back to the throne.

One of the common themes here at HouseOfDIY is that in taking the initiative to do it ourselves, we declare our own independence.  If we need something fixed, we can fix it.  If we want to build something, we can build it.  The ability for each of us, as individuals, to chart our own course without financial or functional dependence on others is the principle of self-sufficiency.  Today, we should recognize that this core aspect of DIY mirrors the same principle of self-sufficiency and self-determination upon which America is founded.

So carry on, DIYers.  Carry on with the great spirit of American resourcefulness, inventiveness, and independence.  But on this great day, take a moment to enjoy the fruits of your labor, for the opportunity to sit back, relax, and enjoy the world you have created for yourself is the greatest reward DIY can offer.

Air mattress

From the "got to laugh to keep from crying" files... something to add to the list of universal truths along with "water flows...