The Saga of the Surge Protector

Fort Pierce Utilities instituted a program of installing whole house surge protectors manufactured by Meter-Treater for $6 per month.These whole house surge protector are superior to others that mount in you breaker panel, because they divert the surge to ground before it gets inside your house. Fort Pierce Utilities Authority (FPUA) required a test of your ground before installing the surge protector. The FPUA employee tested mine and declared that it was "inadequate." His test showed a resistance of 65 ohms with the FPUA standard being "less than 25 ohms" resistance. He said that it was likely due to my electical system being grounded to my water pipes, a technique that no longer meets code. He said that I would have to intall a ground rod.

He said it was a simple procedure of having an electrician drive an eight or ten foot rod into the ground outside the utility room where the electrical service enters the house. He recommended the ten foot rod for a better ground.

I told him that I would have to install a second ground rod on south side (the other side) of the house, because the phone company and cable company are grounded to the water pipes there where they enter the home. He said that I could not, because the code only allows one ground for the house.

He said that the cable and phone companies would have to change their service entry to the north side of the house.

I also complained to the FPUA employee about my lights dimming whenever the A/C compressor started. He declared that it was likely due to inadequate capacity of the service. He noted that I had a 200 amp service panel, but the maximum wire size for the overhead service limited me to 150 amp service. If I converted to underground service they could install a larger wire with 200 amp capacity. I asked him what they would charge to convert the house from overhead to underground electrical service. He said FPUA would charge nothing, but that I would have to dig the trench and install the conduit according to their specifications.

I called a former neighbor, an electricial contractor, who said the job of converting to the underground electrical service and installation would only cost several hundred dollars, if I dug the trench. I told him I would start digging.

The phone company said they would charge $60 to change the service from one side of the house to the other, but that I would have to do the inside wiring.

The cable company said they would charge nothing to change the service from one side of the house to the other, but that I would have to do the inside wiring.

The Trench
The conduit in the trench
I had the trench dug to 36 inches (the spec is a minimum of 30" deep), the electircian installed the conduit to FPUA specifications and a FPUA crew set a new pole to bring the service from the pole across the street. The FPUA said they would wait three days for the pole to settle in before climbing it and installing the overhead line across the street.

After several days a FPUA crew arrived to install the new 200 amp line. The crew dropped the overhead wire. The crew leader inspected it and announced that it was OK and they would use it for the underground service so they would not have to climb the pole across the street disconnect it and connect a new wire. I pointed out to him that the whole purpose of this exercise was to get a larger wire and that this 1957 wire didn't meet the specifications for underground service. His coworker looked at the blueprint and told him that they specified a lower guage wire. The crewleader announced that the existing wire was OK and he was going to use it. When I told him I was calling the engineer, he remembered that he had some of the specified wire on his truck.

With the underground line installed and the ten foot ground rod driven in the ground, the electrician completed the rewiring and sent me a bill for $1,500.

The cable man came, used my trench to lay his underground cable (after I put two feet of dirt in the trench) with two feet of separation from the power line and installed a connection box on the outside wall to connect to once I had done the inside wiring.

The first FPUA man returned and tested my new ground. He found the resistance was 68 ohms, worse than before. He recommended driving one or two additional ground rods about 18" from the new one and bonding them to it. Alternately, I could drive the rod deeper. He commented that FPUA had a special machine that they used to drive their gound rods to a 40 foot depth. He knew of no electrician who had the machine and said that FPUA would not install ground rods for their customers.

I called my electrician, who said he could not drive a ground rod any deeper and knew of no electricians who could.

I went to Graybar Electric to buy two additional ground rods and talked to an electrician who was waiting for his order to be filled. After I told him my tale of woe, he asked where I lived. Once informed, he said that the two additional ground rods wouldn't help due to the poor conductivity of the soil in the neighborhood. He recounted how he had driven eight ground rods at home about one block away and still didn't have an adequate ground. He said I would have to drive a ground rod down to the water table to get a good ground. I didn't buy the additional ground rods.

I told my tale of woe again to a part time worker at Home Depot, who was a full time employee of FPUA. He said that he had a friend, who worked for a FPUA/FPL sub contractor. A couple days later, he said that his friend would be happy to help me and gave me the friend's cell phone number. I called the friend, told him of my troubles and said I would be willing to pay $200 to get a ground rod 40' in the ground. He said he would be there at 4:30 on Friday.

On Friday at 4:30 two large utility trucks pulled up in front of the house and six men jumped out, bringing with them four ten foot ground rods, couplers and the driving machine. The crew leader, the friend of the Home Depot man, directed his crew to drive the rod a few inches from my new one. While two men drove the rod, the others lounged about (I plied them with cold Gatorade). One got out their test equipment and tested the FPUA grounds at two nearby poles. Both tested at greater than 60 ohms. After about 20 minutes the four rods had been connected and driven to 40 feet. The test equipment showed 9 ohms resistance. The friend said my neighbors should be thankful, because my ground was protecting the whole neighborhood. He refused to accept any payment, saying that he was happy to help someone with a problem.

In June, 2004, FPUA installed the whole house surge protector. In January, 2005, they discontined the program and announced they would be removing all the surge protectors. They declined to sell the surge protector and leave it in place, citing liability concerns. They were undecided as to whether they would allow customers to install surge protectors at the meter and recommended installing one in the service panel.

The Surge Protector
The Ground Rod