I remember when I was a kid it was common to make some spare change by scavenging the neighborhood for old farm equipment. This old metal could be turned into cash.
Nowadays the opportunities to make some extra cash in this manner seems to be less than it used to be---now we are expected to recycle for free---although there is still a pretty decent market for aluminum and copper scrap.
It is not uncommon, at least here in the city, to see a street person with a shopping card full of beer and pop cans headed for those places that will give them some cash for their haul.
Another common source of copper for these endeavors in recent years has been the pieces of ground wire that runs to the ground rods outside the foundation of the home.
At a recent inspection I found it curious that on the nearby utility pole there was a warning to anyone interesting in pilfering the ground wire on the pole. This wire grounds the utility company transformer above and is very necessary.
About 10 feet from this pole the wire from the building I was inspecting had been cut where it was supposed to attach to the first ground rod.
The wire that was supposed to run from the first ground rod to the second ground rod had indeed been pilfered.
Because of this possibility, some jurisdictions now require that these exposed ground wires be adequately protected from this kind of terrorism. Of course in new construction where the grounding is connected directly to the rebar in the foundation, this type of pilfering is not possible.
Home inspectors should always be checking for these electrical system grounding components---to at least make sure they are all "visually" in place.
Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector
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WA State, Home Inspector Advisory Licensing Board