Older homes often need their plumbing redone at some point. Eventually, pipes wear down, and they need to be replaced. If you own a 1940s home, though, its pipes might be doing more than carrying water -- they may also be grounding your house's electrical system. Before you hire a plumber to redo the plumbing in your 1940s home, call an electrician who can make sure your home will still be properly grounded.
Copper Pipes were Used in the 1940s
Copper was widely used in residential construction during the 1940s, because the metal lasts a long time. According to Where Water Matters, copper pipes were available to home builders in the 1920s, but they weren't widely used in the industry until the 1940s. By the 1950s, PVC.org notes, PVC was beginning to be used.
Therefore, while copper pipes may be found in any home built since the 1920s, they're especially common in houses that were constructed during the 1940s.
Copper can Serve as a Ground
In homes that have all-copper plumbing, such as many built in the 1940s, the pipes can be used to ground the electrical system. The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission explains that, although DC current will corrode copper, AC doesn't harm it. It's fine to run residential electrical currents through the metal, and, in fact, copper is often used today to ground air conditioners.
New Plumbing Isn't Designed to be a Ground
New plumbing, however, isn't designed to double as the ground for a residential home. Cheaper fittings and pipes that don't conduct electricity are often used in modern construction. For instance:
- polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes are used to carry wastewater
- chlorinated ployvinyl chloride (CPVC) pipes are used for water supplies
- cross-linked polyethelene (PEX) pipes are used for supply lines
- dielectric unions are used to join two pipes of different metals
Even if you decide solely to use copper parts, grounding your home through its plumbing might no longer meet code in your area. If your home's currently grounded through copper pipes, it may be grandfathered in. As soon as you redo the plumbing, though, you may also have to re-ground your electrical system so that it meets current codes.
Paying to Re-Ground Your Home
Re-grounding your home could become expensive for two reasons. First, an electrician will likely need to run new wiring, since there won't be a ground wire running throughout your home if the pipes are serving as the ground. Second, the electrician you hire may discover other, unanticipated issues with your electrical system that need to be addressed.
If your plumbing needs to be redone immediately because of a leak, your insurance company may help you pay for the electrical work that's also required. Coverages vary widely among insurance policies. If yours covers the leak that requires attention and associated damage, then your insurer may also cover all or part of the re-grounding costs. Your insurer may not help defray these expenses, but you should at least ask your insurance agent about your policy's coverage.
If you recently purchased the home, then your home warranty might pay for the work. The electrical system should've been included in your home inspection, so a warranty company won't simply cover the cost because you want to upgrade your electrical system. They may pay for the work if a failure in the plumbing that's covered by the warranty necessitates the work.
Finally, if you don't have an insurance policy or home warranty that will pay for an electrician to re-ground your home, you'll have to save up the money yourself. If the project can wait, put it off until you're able to pay for it. Otherwise, look for a reputable electrician that offers short-term financing.
While it may cost several hundred dollars or more to re-ground your 1940s home, you need to hire an electrician to do this work before you have the plumbing in your house redone. Re-grounding is the only way to ensure that your home is properly grounded. Additionally, it will keep your family safer and bring your house in line with current codes in your area. The work will cost money, but it must be done.Share