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Help! My Plumbing is Leaking and I Don't know why!

Updated on September 21, 2016

Corroded pipe

This is a pipe that is showing signs of electrolysis erosion.
This is a pipe that is showing signs of electrolysis erosion. | Source

It began as a simple do-it-yourself job.

You changed the shower head, updated the bathroom sink, and installed a new shiny toilet. Your are proud of yourself with sparkling pipes and amazing water flow. With-in a few months, you noticed that the water pressure is faltering. Everything seems to look ok, except for the build up around the joints of the pipe. No big deal you think...till water begins to show up in places it doesn't belong. Here you are standing ankle deep in muck and spraying water; pipe wrench in hand, and no clue what caused the leak.

If you have purchased an older home or a home that have different types of piping, chances are the root of your problem is a ground wire to your metal pipes. This was a common practice--to ground the electrical to the plumbing-- in the event that if lightening struck you house, it wouldn't fry your electrical circuits. What most people do not realize is this causes electrolysis, which deteriorates your plumbing.

The effect of electrolysis on pipes

A common ground wire attached to a pipe.

It is common in older homes to find an electrical ground connected to the plumbing.
It is common in older homes to find an electrical ground connected to the plumbing. | Source

What is electrolysis?

Electrolysis is the passage of a direct electrical current through an ionic substance. This can be either a liquid or dissolved in a suitable solvent. An example of this is when a battery corrodes. The electrodes are moving between two different metals.

How does this effect plumbing in a house?

When the ground wire is attached to a pipe, electricity travels through the plumbing on its way to being grounded. If the system is made up of two different metals-copper and galvanized pipe- the electricity will jump from one pipe to another which causes random and inconsistent arching, scaling, spitting, and spotting; while it contacts the pipe. (You will see a build up in the joins of your pipes.) Static electric grounding will have the same effect. As hot and cold air moves through the ducts, static electricity builds up. Pipes that touch or run through these ducts may serve as a ground to the static electricity. If left alone and unchecked, this will eat through pipe walls.

Sever cases of electrolysis may cause serious problems with your plumbing.

Dieletric Union

There is the option of using dielectric unions on your pipes to stop corrosion. A dielectric union is a plastic or ceramic connector that is used to connect two pieces of metal pipe together. This will stop the flow of electricity from one pipe to another.

What are ways to prevent electrolysis whether it is static or a ground wire?

Static electrical grounding can be prevented by using electrical tape where your pipes come in close contact with your air ducts. This gives you pipes an insulation to prevent a direct connection with static electricity and grounding through the plumbing.

To prevent ground wire electrolysis is to be sure to not ground the electrical wiring to your plumbing. Instead be sure to use a grounding rod where the wires connect directly to a copper rod that is anchored to the ground outside. These are usually placed near the electrical box that is located outside your home.

The next time you find yourself with a leak, track it back to see if the cause is from electrolysis.

© 2011 tlpoague

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    • tlpoague profile image

      Tammy 6 years ago from USA

      Thanks 2patricias, It had me puzzled for ages too. I kept asking my hubby about it, but never could grasp the why till I wrote this hub. Thanks again!

    • 2patricias profile image

      2patricias 6 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      Aha! this clears up something that has puzzled me for ages - why an electrical wire is connected to the plumbing

      Actually almost everything to do with plumbing is a mystery to me, so thanks for shedding some light.

      Now I'll have to look at your other hubs on plumbing.


    • eleanorDMorris profile image

      eleanorDMorris 6 years ago from Nashville, TN

      lol complete get what you mean!

    • tlpoague profile image

      Tammy 6 years ago from USA

      Thanks Eleanor, Sorry it took me so long to respond back. I have been out of town. I am lucky enough to have a hubby that broke this down for me. He kept telling me these are major things that one needs to know. It took me a long time to understand plummer lingo, half of it I still have no idea...LOL! Thanks for stopping by!

    • eleanorDMorris profile image

      eleanorDMorris 6 years ago from Nashville, TN

      Nice hub. Good to see you explained things from such a layman perspective. A lot times when I talk to plumbers they're sometimes using all these code words to keep me on the 'outside' if you know what I mean. Maybe it's to charge higher prices or not. Don't know but got a lot from your Hub here so thanks.

    • tlpoague profile image

      Tammy 6 years ago from USA

      Thanks Mom! I think a person needs a sense of humor to tackle a job like this. But, I would rather tackle electrolysis than digging a dirty diaper from the toilet.

    • mljdgulley354 profile image

      mljdgulley354 6 years ago

      Great hub and I can see how this one would start out as one with humor. This is a homeowners nightmare that is hard to find humor in for the most part. Lots of good information is this hub.

    • tlpoague profile image

      Tammy 6 years ago from USA

      Thanks Susan,

      I didn't know about the unions till I was talking to my hubby about writing this hub. We have had a few interesting fixes of our own. It was a learning experience for me. I bet your house is beautiful. I have always been fond of older homes, but not the grief that sometimes comes with them. Thanks again!

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Our home was built back in the 1870's and the plumbing is a nightmare to say the least. We have some galvanized pipes which we plan to replace. We have done some plumbing fixes but not as many as we would like. I will get my husband to read about Dielectric Union as I am not sure that he knows about this. Excellent hub!

    • tlpoague profile image

      Tammy 6 years ago from USA

      @Cardisa-I have my hubby to thank for the info. He was the one that gave me the information. I was going to go with something with a little more humor, but his was more interesting. Thanks for stopping by.

      @K9- I have heard about that before. I agree that not many people may know that. My hubby was in the Navy and loves boats. He was giving more info than I could write down. Guess I better get back to work taking notes. Thanks for pointing out that tip. It may help someone in the future. Thanks for the vote too.

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 6 years ago from Northern, California

      Nice job! A lot of folks may not know about Dielectric Union for keeping old pipes from corroding. Many metal ships use a similar method of attracting corrosion by attaching a copper block to the outside bottom of the boat. This will draw most of the corrosion keeping the ships outer skin mostly rust free. Nice plumbing tips here for older pipes! UP all the way tipoague!



    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 6 years ago from Jamaica

      This is a very informative hub. I heard about older homes grounding their electric wires to the plumbing but never got so much info about it until now. Thanks.

    • tlpoague profile image

      Tammy 6 years ago from USA

      @Dave- It did seem like a never ending job. I was lucky enough to marry a man that knew a bit about it. Thanks!

      @50 Caliber-It is sad to think that the plumber's days may be numbers as people are switching to plastics. My dad was a plumber for a bit and had some interesting tales to tell. I have been lucky with my plumbing. Thanks for stopping by.

      @Happyboomernurse-Thanks, I agree, I never could grasp the why behind why they would ground it to their homes. My thought was a leaky pipe could or would electricute you if you touched it and it was wired. I guess that only happens with the 'live' ones. Thanks again!

      @AA Zavala-Thanks for stopping. I hate to say it, but I always thought that it was neat to see the build up on the rusty pipes. I never realized till later the damages that were occurring. Thanks again, hopefully this helps!

    • A.A. Zavala profile image

      Augustine A Zavala 6 years ago from Texas

      Thank you for the tip. I have an older house, and I'm sure this could be an issue for me as well.

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 6 years ago from South Carolina

      Great hub about an issue I had never heard of, and the photos are excellent. Couldn't help thinking as I read this how "dumb" it seems that the grounding of electrical wires to plumbing pipes was common practice.

      Thanks for sharing this info. Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • 50 Caliber profile image

      50 Caliber 6 years ago from Arizona

      Something I'm well versed in but I read it for a brush up if I'm ever asked. I'm 100% plastic and no worries, but you have presented information your plumber won't tell of fix, he wants to see you agin as plastics are getting so easy to install with press together unions and the like I have to guess the plumbers, save for new installation and replacement jobs, their days are numbered, dust

    • Dave Mathews profile image

      Dave Mathews 6 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

      Plumbing and plumbing repairs are a never ending battle that peiodically home owners must be prepared to face.