Q: “The snow was melting and I was cleaning my downspouts when I got a nasty electrical shock. Curious, I got out my multimeter, which showed a 50-volt potential between the ground and the downspout. The ground itself was electrified (!) until I shut off the main breaker. What’s going on?”
—Jason Smith, Mankato, Minn.
A: You’ve got the electrical equivalent of a water leak, but far more dangerous. Call your power utility immediately to fix the problem.
Somewhere downstream from the breaker, inside your house, an exposed hot wire is in contact with a ground wire or a conductor, such as a metal pipe-, and is leaking stray voltage to the ground. This leakage, known as a ground fault, is more pronounced when the ground is wet.
Left uncorrected, this fault can speed up the corrosion of buried iron pipes and steel fence posts, and will jack up your electric bills because stray current will be flowing out nonstop. Worst case, you run the risk of being electrocuted or having your house catch fire. Don’t wait to make that call.
Master electrician Scott Caron is the owner of Caron Electric and appears regularly on Ask TOH TV.