We all know how important it is to ground electronics and other appliances, but what about tracer wire installations?

Without grounding, electricity will do everything possible to make it to earth. That means finding and traveling the path of least resistance, whether through a ground wire or your invaluable appliances. No matter what happens, electricity will complete its circuit.

Is the same thing true for tracer wire installations? Yes, but rather than protecting a piece of equipment, a tracer wire ground rod is used to help create a circuit along underground utilities. This makes it possible for workers to locate and mark underground pipes and wiring to prevent damage during excavation.

Did you know that thousands of excavation accidents occur each year? In some cases, workers did not take the proper precautions to trace and mark underground utilities. Without grounding, it’s impossible to find hidden pipes and wires, making it easier to accidentally slice a gas line or telecommunications cable and cause real damage.

When used correctly, tracer wire ground rods make it possible to complete the tracer wire circuit so you can protect utilities and avoid careless mistakes.

What is a tracer wire ground rod?

When burying tracer wire alongside underground utilities, you must complete the circuit.

Why do you have to complete the circuit? When electricity flows through the tracer wire, it creates a signal that allows workers to locate the wire without digging underground. However, creating a signal requires connection points on both ends of the wire. Otherwise, the signal is lost, and you won’t be able to find the utilities.

Ground rods come in all shapes, sizes, and materials, including copper, zinc, and magnesium. Though each type performs differently in different scenarios, most ground rods for tracer wire applications are made of magnesium.

The rod needs to be driven into the ground to work well. A lead wire is attached from the tracer wire to the ground rod, completing the circuit and allowing electricity to flow through the tracer wire from a transmitter. As electricity flows through the system, it creates a signal that goes into the ground rod, through the soil, and back to a temporary grounding stake attached to the transmitter.

If it’s not installed correctly, the circuit will be incomplete, and you’ll lose the signal.

Tracer Wire Systems Are Like Batteries

Think of your tracer wire circuit as a battery. For it to work correctly, the electrical system has to have the right ingredients. Among them are the:

  • Positive: A terminal with higher voltage.
  • Negative: A terminal with lower voltage.
  • Conductor: The conductor is the wiring that connects the positive with the negative.
  • Electrolyte: This is the medium that connects the positive with the negative. In our example, the soil between the ground rod and the temporary probe would serve as the electrolyte, allowing electricity to flow from one side to the other.

All four pieces must be present, connected, and whole for the system to work. Any problems with any of the connections may result in a lost signal.

Like a battery, a similar setup can be seen in tracer wire, but with a slightly different approach. The tracer wire serves as the conductor, carrying electricity from the transmitter to the ground rod. Without a ground rod, you’re missing out on a critically important part of the circuit, since there is now nowhere for the electricity to go from the tracer wire.

At the end of the day, if you’re using electricity to locate underground utilities, you need to have a ground for the electricity to flow through. A ground rod, true to its name, is an excellent way to complete the circuit and effortlessly locate pipes, cables, and other underground assets.

How to Install a Ground Rod

To install our magnesium ground rods, they have to be installed on the dead end of a tracer wire. The other side of the wire should be grounded to an access point for the current to flow safely through.

The tracer wire should be firmly attached at both ends to allow the signal to flow through. If they aren’t, the current won’t move from one end to the other, and you won’t be able to locate the underground utilities you’re looking for.

Once the rod has been installed, it should be able to last for the life of the underground utility itself. In the case of most piping, that means several decades. However, accidents occur, and sometimes the signal gets lost. If that’s the case, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Is the wire damaged? If the tracer wire is damaged, it can’t send a signal through the circuit. This is especially true if you use a wire that isn’t direct burial rated, like THHN. Do not use THHN in place of tracer wire. It will deteriorate much more quickly – depending on the soil conditions, it could deteriorate in as little as a few years.
  • Is the grounding rod still attached? A weak point associated with some grounding rods is that they can lose the connection to the wire. Sometimes the wire can even be damaged during the installation process if the wire becomes detached from the rod.
  • Unequal grounds at the ends. If you see that the signal isn’t good or you’re not getting one, look at your ground points. If they’re unequal, the electricity will flow to the one with the stronger pull. Keep them as equal as possible to ensure a strong connection across the length of your tracer wire.

Better Ground Rods, Better Installation

Kris-Tech’s ground rods are designed to make installation and maintenance top priorities.

Many ground rods have an angular tip that sometimes causes them to drive into the ground at an odd angle. Our rods don’t do that. Thanks to our pencil tip design, you can confidently strike the rod straight into the ground every time.

Our angled, removable curved cap offers some forgiveness when driving the rod into the ground with a hammer and ensures it won’t break. A recessed tracer wire-to-ground connection point prevents damage during installation and other mishaps during its lifetime.

What does all this mean for you? A safer, more reliable product that’s proudly made in the USA.

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