Getting shocked by house wiring

A poster put this in my thread.
I’ve created this thread for him or her, so there isn’t a hijack:
Can I ask a question along the lines of house wiring?

If I have a cut on a finger and touch the water in a metal pan on my stove burner, I got a low level shock. It’s enough to make you pull you hand back and I don’t get it without an open wound.

I thought it was my stove (electric burner, stainless steel pot), then noticed that I also get shocked by water in my stainless steel sink about 4 feet away. So, I disconnected the stove and haven’t bought a replacement. The shock stopped at that point.

Since then, I’d been using a ‘hot plate’ and had no problem until yesterday when I got shocked again on the metal pan. The hot plate is plugged into a different outlet (110 vs the 220 for the stove). The 220 breaker has not been turned back on. So that line should still be dead.

Is there something that can be done to somehow make the electric wiring cause stove burners to carry a charge?

Also, for the water, it is only the kitchen sink water that shocked me. No other water has that effect. No other water in my house is held in stainless steal container. I have well water and and the pipes are all plastic. Is there some sort of chemical reaction that can be happening with stainless steel as an electrode? Like when you put silver in water with tin foil?

That was me. Thanks for moving it. I appreciate any insight.

This is almost certainly a ground or neutral bonding problem. Have an electrician check your breaker box - it could become dangerous.

It sounds like an earthing problem. Is the supply earthed at all, or has the earth been damaged? I used to get a mild shock off the lathe in the shed - turns out the workers who put the supply into there for my late father didn’t attach the earth wire, and cut it back at the consumer box too.

But at the same time, something in the house is attempting to short to ground. Of course, once the ground connection is made, it’ll probably blow and make it much easier to find.

If it was MY house, I’d probably (right after getting shocked, with the same things still on) take out my multimeter and take a reading between what I got shocked from and a good ground. If there is indeed voltage across those two things, I might take an insulated wire and electrically connect them in an attempt to short them and blow a breaker. Just to see what breaker blows and take it out of commission so I don’t have to worry about getting a shock every time I touch something metallic or wash my hands.

Just out of curiosity, did you put in a new gas water heater recently? Is your stove gas? I’m wondering if something is attempting to ground to the gas line and the gas is losing it’s connection at the water heater.

Is there a metal strap going around your water meter?

If this is new, has any work been done in the house lately? Electrical? Plumbing? Carpentry? Anything at all?

It’s already dangerous. Get it fixed ASAP.

But yeah, I agree, most likely a grounding or neutral problem. Most likely a broken ground connection but could be other things.

if you’re getting shocks from appliances and from your sink (which shouldn’t have any electricity into it) then you have serious issues. call an electrician and don’t die.

It’s also possible that there is only one grounding rod for your home, and the recent heat wave has dried up the ground so much that it is loose in it’s hole and providing a poor ground. That’s why current installations have two grounding points, one to the copper water line coming into the house and one to a grounding rod.

To answer questions.

The house is old, maybe originally 1920s? In the mid-70s it was moved to the current location. The wiring sucks, but at least the 220 line doesn’t appear damaged (I have full basement and the wire runs out in the open. The only part I couldn’t see was about 12" where it runs up a wall to the stove outlet in the kitchen. So, that is the 220 line that serviced the stove which was VERY OLD and needed replaced.

The kitchen sink is stainless steel tubs set in a mid-70s Formica counter. The overhead light and a near-by light plate/outlet (about 3 feet away) are serviced by a wire through the attic and down the exterior wooden wall. The sink is serviced by white plastic pipes in and a black plastic pipe out. The only way I could see getting a charge into the sink would be through the water at the metal faucet. I routinely fill a water tank next to my house where there is a full ‘connection’ from the hose to the tank. I put my hands in the rubber tank all the time. I’ve never been shocked there.

The hotplate that I’m using now is on the opposite side of the kitchen using a 110 outlet and puts out enough power to heat a 3qt sauce pan of water to the point of steaming, but not boiling. (so the hotplate isn’t all that hot compared to a stove).

There hasn’t been any work of any kind in the house. There isn’t any gas in the house. The only thing that has changed is that they’re fracking a gas well near by, but that should not be under or near my house (but that’s why I thought maybe something in the water chemistry might be changing enough to cause a chemical reaction of some sort with the stainless steel)

The shocks are random (like I was shocked once day before yesterday, but haven’t been shocked since). I’d been getting randomly shocked on the stove at a rate of maybe once every second or third week. When the sink shocked me, it made me afraid of the stove, so I killed the breaker and pulled out the hot plate.

So, if there is no active “shocking” going on, could an electrician diagnose the problem? I believe the 110 outlets in my house probably aren’t grounded based on the fact that my ups in my office says that they’re not grounded. I know some of the house wiring is grounded (e.g. the 220v to my well pump was checked by a professional and is properly grounded.)

Also, we’ve been running under normal rains here, but we aren’t in a severe drought condition. I know in the past they would ground electricity to the copper pipes, but the few bits of copper that exist in the house are not any where near the fuse box and the only copper outside is the 220v line that goes to the well head. Is there any trick to finding where your ground pole is located?

The only other thing that I can think of that might be related is that I have CFLs and a couple of my light switches went out (just quit working) because of how the CFLs draw power. Could a blown light switch on a different circuit be causing it?

If I have an electrician come out and there’s no active shock, if I have him replace all the end bits (e.g. outlets, light switches, etc) would that have a good chance of solving the problem?

on the grounding of the electrical system:

homes with city water used to be grounded using the metal water supply pipe coming from the street. with a private well you often won’t have metal pipe coming in that has at least 8 feet in contact with dirt. you would likely have one or more grounding rods attached near the electric meter.

Actually the point of the current system is not to provide redundant ground paths. It used to be that you were required to ground to the cold water pipe, since pretty much every home had one of those and it made a good solid ground connection. Then they started using plastic pipe. Since the cold water pipe couldn’t be relied on any more, they switched to requiring a good old fashioned copper rod driven into the ground. But you still want your water system to be grounded, so that any short to the water pipes won’t create a shock hazard. So the water pipes are connected to ground as well.

In other words, in a modern system you aren’t grounding the house to the water pipe, you are grounding the water pipe to the house’s ground system.

From the sound of things, your home has a major grounding problem (or perhaps a “lack of grounding” problem would be a better way to say it). The obvious lack of grounds would be fairly easy for an electrician to fix, though it sounds like your electrical system needs a fair amount of work which will likely be a bit pricey. I suspect that bad grounding is not your only problem. An electrician should be able to diagnose most of it even though there isn’t any active shocking going on. While he’s there, tell him that an electrical engineer from the internet who hasn’t even seen your house suspects that you might have a spotty neutral to ground connection as well and have him double check that.

Based on your symptoms, I would say that replacing the end bits isn’t likely to help at all.

For a quick diagnosis go buy a plug in device that shows if the ground/neutral is reversed. It will not solve the problem but will give you a heads up as the probable problem.

Call a license electrician like yesterday.

Can someone explain how this situation could cause an electric shock? Electric burners have to be electrically insulated, or else they would be shorted out by using a metal pan.

Leakage current.

What makes you think that the CFLs caused the light switches to fail, since I can’t think of ANY way a CFL could damage a light switch like that, unless it was some sort of fancy electronic switch (the light dimmer-CFL problem, but usually it results in the CFL being damaged). True, they draw power differently than incandescents (some newer ones may be power factor corrected), but the peak current is still lower than the peak current of an equivalent incandescent, same for the inrush surge.

“Leakage current is the current that flows through the protective ground conductor to ground.”

That doesn’t answer my question. The electric coils are insulated. How is current flowing through the ground wire getting into the pan or water?

It’s NOT current in the ground wire that’s causing the shock hazard.
It’s current from the hot side of the circuit - that could be caused by any number of faults - worn burn elements, scraped wires, debris trapped in the contacts, capacitive coupling, even another appliance with a hot-ground short that is electrifying all the grounds in the house. It’s impossible to tell.

But, what’s clear is that there is a potential difference between “case” ground and “Earth” ground. In a correctly wired house, there is minimal, if any, difference.

The answer is that there isn’t a ground connected to the objects in question, which is why a tingle is felt when they are touched. This is also actually more common than you think; for example, people often report a tingle from electronics with two prong plugs; this is because there is a capacitor in the power supply which filters high frequency noise (marked bridge capacitor here), but also passes a fraction of a milliamp at 60 Hz, thus the tingle (considered non-hazardous; the capacitors used must also be special “safety rated” capacitors which are very unlikely to short even with power spikes).

That’s your answer I quoted there.

For the burners/insulation question. The 220v stove was ancient (really ancient) and the hot plate is older. So it wouldn’t be impossible for there to be cracks or scratches on the burner that I didn’t notice. For the record, the hot plate still hasn’t shocked me since that one time. But that still leaves how is current getting into the water --I’m assuming that is the conduit to the sink-- that has only happened the one time since I killed that circuit as soon as I noticed it and I’m not willing to ‘test’ that one.

I have a yellow gadget that tells me if there is ground, reversal, etc from a past life as a network tech. I’ll dig it out and check the situation with that just for curiosity.

The CFL/Light Switch. I was an early adopter of CFL. The bulbs/problems were from the kind sold about ten years ago. Probably 2 years ago? I was in a ‘discussion’ debating CFL bulbs (the regulation for higher efficiency standards). One person was defending their position that CFLs are a fire hazard and posted that they damaged older (very old?) light switches. At the time, they provided a link that appeared credible. If I remember correctly, something about the surge created by the CFL ruins the switch. In my experience, I had a socket in the barn stop working. It turned out to be the ground contact in the socket. (The barn wiring was replaced by a licensed professional and inspected, but the light socket was an original ‘old’ one). I’ve also had three light switches in the house go out. Where the associated light sockets do not work no matter what bulb is in them. So, that sort of cemented the belief. My google-fu sucks and I can’t find the link or any link that makes the same association. So, I guess I have added problems beside the kitchen area.

So, I’m going to find an electrician to “fix the grounding problems” in my house. I live in an area where anyone with a screw driver will print business cards and call themselves practically anything they like. Yellow pages ads are not much safer. I found the guy seven years ago through a fluke friend of a friend (favor) thing and that was only after having suffered two idiots. I have no idea how to find a license electrician now and I’m not rolling in enough spare change to be able to afford multiple failed attempts.

Hints on how to find an actual license electrician would be welcome.

I hate to continue to impose, but could the failed light switches be a ground thing as well? If it matters, all three switches control exactly 2 lights and they are not on isolated circuits. The associated outlets work fine. Both of the light sockets went non-functional at the same time, that is why I thought it was the switch. But I guess it could be old sockets, like what was found in the barn. On the barn socket, the electrician said it was the ground? neutral? contact that had failed. (But, the barn socket was one out of a string of six sockets.)

And, I really appreciate everyone’s time and input.