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.

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