Nine out ten times when I ask an electrician, at the time of the inspection, do you actually know what U-F-E-R stands for, they will give you, uhh, underground, uhh electrical resistant rod, uhh, not really sure.
The concrete encased electrode has become such an important part of grounding in the code but it also has become a nightmare for everybody, electricians and inspectors alike.
When an inspector asks about the Ufer we are actually asking for the location of the concrete encased electrode which was actually named after a consultant working for the US Army during World War II. His name was Herbert G. Ufer and the year was in 1942.
You see, the Army had a big grounding problem in their bomb storage vaults out in the desert areas of Flagstaff, Arizona. An important fact was that there was no underground water table to be found in the area and what makes Arizona a great vacation destination, very little rainfall. But it still has amazing lighting storms.
Ufer understood that concrete had some great properties for grounding and wanted to take advantage of it when he came up with his grounding system. Anybody that has a basement in a wet area knows that concrete has the ability to absorb moisture and as it hardens it doesn’t lose the moisture very quickly. Concrete also has several minerals such as lime and all of these minerals means that the pH properties produces ions which conduct electrical current. With the contact of the concrete to earth or the soil or ground the pH of the surrounding soils actually is increased and now becomes a good electrical conductor. A piece of rebar is embedded into the concrete with enough of the bar extending out of the footing or foundation to have an approved clamp installed which allows the electrician to run a grounding electrical conductor from the clamp to the panel.
Now, the problem. You see, framers are not electricians. The framers main goal in life is to stand his wood framed walls as fast as possible without the dog-gone thing falling back on him and killing him. It is actually a hard task to accomplish when there are obstructions coming out of the concrete such as plumbing pipes or this stupid piece of rebar. What the heck is this thing? It looks like the concrete guys just left a bar and didn’t get it pushed into the concrete. I’ll take care of that so he grabs his sawsall and makes a clean cut flush with the top of the concrete and stands his wall. UFER GONE!
In the next chapter of this construction story here comes the electrician. He’s got a job to do. He’s got to ground the system. Great, he’s heard saying, and scratching his head. Where’s the UFER bar? The framing crew, not being electricians, all say “don’t know”. The electrician then says, “the rebar that was sticking out of the concrete”. Framers, “couldn’t get our wall over it so we had to cut it off.” In comes the inspector, “where’s the connection to the UFER?” Electrician, “the framers cut it off…there isn’t one available”. “Instead I pounded in two 8′ ground rods as per code.” Inspector, “you fail”.
Everybody has to get together on this dilemma. The code actually says when available does it not? The inspectors are saying that it is available. It is now just embedded into the concrete. Inspectors are actually making contractors chip out the concrete in order to attach to a piece of rebar. That is crazy. What are we all looking for? A grounding system, are we not? The code lists several different means of grounding. Two ground rods spaced a minimum of 6 feet apart works fine. You could actually just use one but you’re going to have to prove 25 ohms to ground. Easier and cheaper to just put in two ground rods.
Here is a short video on what, where and why of ground rods and the code by Galvan Industries, a manufacturer of UL and NEC approved ground rods. No, Mr. Inspector you do not need to prove 25 ohms to ground when you install the second ground rod. Read the Code! Know the Code!
COMMON SENSE or the lack of understanding the system and technique of grounding or always literally enforcing the black and white of a particular code section is the downfall of inspectors.
We all need to get on the same path of understanding the code. I like the term, “if available”. Makes sense to me. How about you?
Can’t say if you’ll pass your next inspection if there isn’t a UFER, but hopefully this blog will help you make an argument. Remember the code is your friend. The NFPA recently made the NEC, National Electrical Code available online. You will have to give them an email address in order to log in but heck, it’s free. Go to ItsACode.com and read the code for free.
May your next inspection be passed.