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Why is there electrical cables connected to my plumbing pipes?

Earth, terraferma, ground, the soil beneath our feet, what ever you what to call it, is in electrical terms a reference point, a datum from which electrical charges/potentials i.e. electrical voltages are measured.  The consensus adopted is that ‘earth’ our planet, resides at zero (0) volts, hence for any voltage greater than zero potential given a suitable electrical conductor, when the voltage charge is applied to the conductor an electrical current will flow through the conductor from the source of the higher potential to earth (a lower potential).

Equally if a voltage potential of a negative magnitude with respect earth (zero volts), is applied to a suitable electrical conductor, an electrical current will flow through the conductor from earth to the source of the negative voltage potential.

In normal circumstances the ‘earth’, or ground connection, in electrical terms carries no electrical current since no difference in voltage potentials exists across any two points of earth.

So fundamentally, an electric current is a flow of electric charge. In electric circuits, this charge is often carried by moving electrons in a medium, i.e. a suitable electrical conductor such as a copper wire.

Normally, atoms exist with zero (0) ‘net’ charge since the number of electrons (-ve charge) equals the number of protons (+ve charge). Yet if an atom loses or gains an electron then the atom is simply referred to as an ‘ion’.

Moving electrons arise from the action of being forced from the outer shell of their parent atom by whatever means. In doing so the atom gains a net positive charge, i.e. more protons than electrons. In these circumstances the positive charged atom is referred to at a cation

Equally an atom can gain an electron and hence attain a net negative charge, i.e. more electrons than protons, hence in these circumstances the positive charged atom is referred to as a anion.

To summarise thus far, the fundamental electrical phenomena of electrical current flow, occurs when a potential difference of electrical charge (voltage) exists across two points of a suitable electrical conductor, be this a copper wire, a body of water or a human body.  So critically, if you or I or anyone touches with bare skin a charged conductor, then electrical current in most circumstances will flow through the human body to earth.

Further, if a person comes into contact with an electrical conductor, be this any form of metalwork, taps, metal sinks, metal panels of appliances etc., or standard copper service pipes (gas/water) and this metal work has not been adequately and efficiently connected via suitable electrical cables to an earth point (referred to as ‘earth bonded’), then if the metal work is charged to a voltage of a sufficient magnitude, the person will experience an electrical shock which could be fatal.

So in order to eliminate this possibility all metalwork (referred to as extraneous conductive parts) are electrically connected to an earth point, i.e. earth bonded. In this way, even if a significant charge does develop, such as during an earth fault circumstance, all extraneous conductive parts that someone could touch will reside at earth potential i.e. zero (0) volts and hence no dangerous electrical ‘shock’ current can flow.

I will post further blogs discussing electrical regulations for earth bonding in special locations such as bathrooms or where water and electricity come in to close proximity.


About Dr Robert Brown:

Eur Ing Dr Robert Brown (Robert) is the Executive Director of Fraser George and Associates Limited and is a Consultant and Forensic Engineer in the fields Electrical Electronic and Control Engineering.

Robert is an accomplished professional Electrical Expert Witness having prepared and presented many court compliant reports and presented oral evidence within the High Court, Crown Courts and County Courts.

Robert is a registered Chartered Electrical Engineer, specialising in the fields are control engineering, parameter data capture and accurate data ‘representation’. Robert graduated from Sheffield Hallam University with a first class honours degree in Electronic Systems and Control Engineering and followed this by completing doctorate research in Electrical Engineering, again at Sheffield Hallam University where Robert undertook research studies in the field of Disintegration and Arcing in Electrical Fuses. Robert is now considered to be a leading world expert in the field of electrical circuit protection systems, the phenomena of electrical fuse operation and the attributes of clearing ‘fault’ electrical current circumstances. Robert has published my pure and applied research studies in peer-refereed journals and at conference.

In his spare time Robert is a Formula 1 motor racing enthusiast and enjoys outdoor activities especially hill walking and scrambling, golf and fishing. Robert is a brass band enthusiast, a tuba player and band manager of Hatfield and Askern Colliery Band. When time allows Robert also enjoys travelling and reading any books associated with travel and popular science.


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