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#172469 - 12/19/07 11:47 PM Short circuit blows holes in pipes?  
BigB  Offline
Joined: Mar 2004
Posts: 719
Tucson, AZ USA
I got a call today from an excited contractor who was trying to explain something about some wires that sparked when they touched them with their aluminum ladder, and some pipes that had holes blown in them when it happened. I couldn't go there right away, I got there six hours later and here is what I found:

Stapled to the side of the residence is 30 feet of 6/2 SEU running to an outdoor AC unit. The SEU is over 50 years old, and the top layer of insulation is mostly gone, leaving the bare concentric neutral exposed. There is also a copper water pipe emerging from the ground and entering the house close to the wall with a spigot, along with a gas pipe. The plumbers had already been there, the copper pipe had been replaced. The homeowner also took me inside to the utility room and showed me the two copper flex connectors that had been on the water heater. They had pinholes in them. He said that the contractor's aluminum ladder was laying down alongside the house, right wher the cable was. When he picked it up, it made contact with the cable and the water pipe at the same time. There was a big boom and an arc, he said. The pipe blew open and a few minutes later they saw the water leaking out of the utility room from the pinholes in the flex pipes on the water heater.

No breakers tripped. The SEU is protected by an old GE 70 amp breaker, probably from the fifties.

I could not find any burn marks on the SEU. I can't see where contact could have been made with a hot conductor, they were both still insulated under the bare neutral.

Now I am thinking maybe it is a case of an open service neutral, with the neutral on the water pipe. But the plumbers didn't get shocked when they opened the pipes.

I didn't have much time, it was dark and late. So I shut the breaker to the AC off (nobody had thought to do that) and said I'd return to replace the circuit. But I am still kind of baffled as to what actually what happened.

Anyone ever seen this happen with the pipes?

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#172480 - 12/20/07 08:22 AM Re: Short circuit blows holes in pipes? [Re: BigB]  
SteveFehr  Offline
Joined: Mar 2005
Posts: 1,205
Chesapeake, VA
Is there possibly a short circuit in the water heater that may have energized the pipe? Heating element buried in sediment, perhaps?

#172489 - 12/20/07 09:54 AM Re: Short circuit blows holes in pipes? [Re: SteveFehr]  
BigB  Offline
Joined: Mar 2004
Posts: 719
Tucson, AZ USA
The water heater is gas.

#172490 - 12/20/07 10:23 AM Re: Short circuit blows holes in pipes? [Re: BigB]  
Joined: Mar 2004
Posts: 251
Kingwood, TX USA
The bare neutral in the SE is hot, shorted at one end and not grounded. It also could be a bad neutral in the service.

#172533 - 12/20/07 08:35 PM Re: Short circuit blows holes in pipes? [Re: WESTUPLACE]  
KJay  Offline
Joined: Nov 2007
Posts: 763
Did the ladder also touch the cabinet of the AC condenser at the same time? Maybe something inside that old condenser is not properly grounded with that [3-wire] SEU feeding it.

Last edited by KJay; 12/20/07 08:38 PM.

#172536 - 12/20/07 09:00 PM Re: Short circuit blows holes in pipes? [Re: KJay]  
BigB  Offline
Joined: Mar 2004
Posts: 719
Tucson, AZ USA
No, the bare neutral was not shorted, I did check it to see if it was hot. Plus it runs all the way to the panel where it is grounded.

I found out today the plumbers fixed the pipes with the power shut off. Guess I'd better do an amp check on the service neutral and on the water pipe.

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