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This is a question on many of our minds. When you research it, the exact answer is not very clear. That’s because many debate whether this is just a myth. We know that lightning can travel through metal plumbing systems already. But, the question is: can lightning travel through PVC pipes?
Regardless of whether your plumbing is made up of metal pipes or PVC, the risk is never completely eliminated because lightning can travel through water too. Your safety also depends on whether you have a lightning rod, or a similar system installed.
These systems conduct the lightning and send it to the ground to neutralise it. Let’s take a more detailed look into this topic. In this article, I will talk about the types of plastic used for plumbing, the advantages of plastic plumbing and the risk of getting shocked when you sower during a thunderstorm.
Many plumbers are moving towards plastic pipes due to its cost effectiveness and ease of installation. Let’s take a look at the different types of plastic pipes for plumbing that exist.
This type of plastic is called a terpolymer. This is because it is made by polymerizing styrene and acrylonitrile in the presence of polybutadiene. ABS is known for its strength and toughness which is why it is frequently used in plumbing. It is commonly used as an insulator in the electrical industry.
This is PVC that is treated with chlorine. This makes it able to handle both hot and cold temperatures respectively. Due to its ability to handle different temperatures well, it is often called a thermoplastic. It is therefore popularly used for plumbing purposes. CPVC is also commonly used in fire sprinkler systems.
HDPE is softer and malleable compared to PVC. For this reason, it is more likely to be used for plumbing where the piping needs to be more flexible to be manipulated better. These pipes are commonly used for water mains, sewer mains, irrigation piping and fire sprinkler systems. It is worth noting that HDPE is a great insulator.
Also known as cross-linked Polyethylene, this plastic is made from medium or high-density polyethylene that is modified to have improved properties. This makes it more flexible and better designed to cope with carrying water at higher temperatures. However, they don’t handle cold temperatures well.
PVC is commonly used for home plumbing systems since it does not corrode. It is likely to be used for cold water piping systems. PVC does not do well with heat and can warp. Additionally, PVC is known to be really good at insulating, which is why it is also frequently used in the electrical industry.
There are a few reasons why plastic is used in plumbing rather than metal alternatives. I’ll talk about PVC plumbing here since it is commonly used. PVC piping is often used for sewerage lines, main water lines, irrigation, water service lines and more.
The advantages of using PVC for plumbing include:
- They are lightweight and easy to manipulate
- They are tough
- They are cheaper than metal piping
- They’re available in long lengths
- They’ve got a smooth surface which means less friction
- They are rust resistant
- They are resistant to chemical erosion
The downside of PVC is that they cannot handle high temperatures. However, CPVC can, as I discussed earlier. This is a type of PVC that is treated with chlorine. This means that exposure to heat can reduce the pipe’s strength. PVC is also susceptible to cracking over time.
This is not a straightforward question to answer. There are a few things to consider here. Firstly, the metals that are traditionally used for plumbing include copper, galvanised steel or iron.
All of these metals are conductors of electricity.
Plastic piping, on the other hand, are insulators of electricity. So that means that during a thunderstorm, lightning can easily travel through metal pipes to your faucet or showerhead, making electrocution a possibility.
However, when you’re using PVC or other plastic pipes for your plumbing, these can help prevent getting electrocuted if lightning strikes.
But, like with all things that can pose a threat, you still want to avoid showering during a thunderstorm because electricity can still travel through water. That means the risk is not totally eliminated by using PVC pipes.
So, I’ve explained how metal and plastic plumbing differs in terms of their electrical conductivity. But let’s answer the big question: is it safe to shower in a thunderstorm with plastic pipes? The answer is that there are situations where it is less dangerous but the risk is never completely eliminated.
Let’s talk about the electrical conductivity of metal plumbing. The risk of being electrocuted when showering during a thunderstorm with metal plumbing depends on whether there is a protection mechanism in place or not.
What do I mean when I talk about a protection mechanism? Houses that are built in this way have systems in place that allow the electrical current to dissipate into the ground.
This is usually achieved by providing a path of low resistance to ground. Copper piping is a great material to use when installing such a system. Lightning rods can also be installed. They work by conducting the electrical current and allowing it to flow to the ground.
The biggest risk is having a metal plumbing system – such as copper – with no lightning protection mechanism or rod in place. This means the electrical current will travel straight through your metal pipes to your faucet or shower head.
If you’re not sure whether you have a protection system in place, you can get a plumber to come and do a check.
It may not be a very common occurrence, but according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who tracks lightning injuries, it is estimated that 10 to 20 people in the US are shocked annually while bathing, using taps or handling appliances during storms.
Not only does the risk lie in the plumbing, but lightning can travel through water too. It is for this reason that the CDC recommends that it is best to avoid all water during a lightning storm. Do not shower, bathe, wash dishes, or wash your hands.
Additionally, the MythBusters, who commonly conduct experiments on Discovery channel, used a ballistics gel dummy that conducts electricity as well as the human body for the experiment. In short, the dummy was definitely affected by the 700,000 volts of lightning used in the experiment.
With all this evidence in mind, it is clear that showering during a lightning storm may, indeed, be a dangerous thing to do.
There is no way to guarantee that you won’t get shocked when you take a shower during a thunderstorm.
Even though using a rod or changing to PVC piping cannot fully protect you. When you take the risk into consideration, it is probably best just to avoid showering during a thunderstorm unless it’s really necessary.