A major home improvement company renovated the outside of our home. During the process the subcontractor jacked into our breaker box without permission and without the use of an electrician. After complaining we finally hired an electrician to review the breaker box and discovered the ground wire had been removed from the ground for almost a 12 week period. My question is what potential harm could of come of this event?

  • PS. I live in Texas – Jay Oct 24 '12 at 23:39
  • Anyone else have an opinion? I know this sounds very ignorant but was my family in any potential danger? – Jay Oct 25 '12 at 0:00
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    The fact that you weren't electrocuted indicates that you avoided any danger. In an ideal state, no current is ever sent over a ground wire. That doesn't mean you weren't at risk, just that you were lucky and the contractor was an idiot. – BMitch Oct 25 '12 at 0:43

If you have not experienced any problems with equipment and have not gotten any shocks, then you dodged a bullet. No harm, no foul, sorta. Just glad you found the problem before anybody got hurt. I'm sure no damage to appliances.

  • Thanks Shirlock...we did dodge the bullet, and right during the middle of hurricane season. – Jay Oct 24 '12 at 23:47
  • Anyone else have an opinion? I know this sounds very ignorant but was my family in any potential danger? – Jay Oct 24 '12 at 23:59

I don't think you were in any immediate danger. Decades ago, houses didn't have grounding like we have today (if any at all), and while there were definitely some incidents, most people managed to live their lives just fine. You'll still find old houses in North America that are not properly grounded, and you can only imagine what third world countries are like.

That being said, it is a safety feature so you were at higher risk of electrocution should a short or fault have occurred.

If no harm came of it and no equipment was damaged, there are no lingering effects of the missing ground assuming it was properly corrected.

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    However, we also didn't have the prevalance of sensitive electronics that we have now. It might not be as much a risk to people in general, but that doesn't mean that it hasn't done damage to something else. I wouldn't think that smoke detectors would be affected, but that's a case where failed electronics might have safety issues in the future. – Joe Oct 25 '12 at 13:06
  • @Jay Appliances, computers, any device with metal parts inside and out has the potential for a loose wire or short to any of the metal parts of the device. Typically the ground plug of such devices will go directly to the body, case or other metal parts so that if such a thing were to happen then the device or appliance will short through the ground wire, rather than through a three year old child standing barefoot in a puddle of water when he touches the washing machine. Even so, amperage kills, not volts and modern breakers will trip before such an event will kill you. It hurts though. – maple_shaft Oct 25 '12 at 14:06
  • And lots of devices still have two-pronged plugs – Steven Oct 25 '12 at 14:16
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    @maple_shaft: Actually, the amperage that can kill you is way, way lower than 15A or so that breakers are set to. The breakers are really to protect the wiring in your house from overheating and starting a fire. They won't help you if get a nasty ground fault current flowing through you. (GFCIs, on the other hand, have a far lower amperage limit and can save your life, although it depends exactly on the path of the electricity.) – Hank Oct 25 '12 at 16:57
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    Re: two-pronged plugs. Any devices sold in the Western world within the last several decades with two prong plugs are double insulated in a non-conductive case such that the risk of electrocution is nil despite the lack of a grounding conductor. – bcworkz Oct 26 '12 at 1:23

I assume you have neighbors that share the same transformer.
I would also assume that they have their main panels properly grounded.
That would mean that your neutral was grounded.
Just not as close as it should have been.
I also assume that your neutral, and ground wires were still connected together in your main panel.

If you loaded up on only one half of your panel, the voltage on your neutral would have not been zero.

The amount voltage would have been considered low-voltage. ( The highest it could go is half of the voltage of one leg. Which would require that you had a short between that leg and neutral, that wasn't through a breaker. )

So that means you could have gotten a shock, but it probably wouldn't have been life-threatening.

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