Lake residents had a positive first step in their effort to change the electric code in Virginia to prevent stray voltage around docks. The issue will receive further study following their meeting with the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development on Aug. 21.

“I don’t think we could have expected anything better than what we got,” said Jim Erler, a former electrical engineer and physicist who took up the cause in 2017. He was joined by SML Marine Volunteer Fire member Neil Harrington and local attorney John Lane. Both have been working with Erler to address the stray voltage issue.

Erler presented his proposed changes to a VDHCD work group tasked with updating the state’s electric and building codes currently under review. The change includes removing a part of the electrical code that requires a ground wire to be connected to a dock from a home. He has found that the wire allows stray voltage to travel from the power lines to the home and to the dock.

There was opposition to the proposed change at the Aug. 21 meeting, Erler said. Opponents claimed the stray voltage was due to improper installations or a problem with how the power company provides electricity to a home.

Also speaking on behalf of the group was Del. Kathy Byron (R-Bedford) who urged the group to consider their findings. In a letter presented to the work group, she said stray voltage was a “genuine risk” and could not be ignored. “There is no question that her being there was a big deal,” Erler said.

Members of the VDHCD called for the formation of a sub-work group that includes Erler and other proponents of the code change, along with industry representatives and electrical inspectors who oppose the proposal. Erler said no date was given for when the group would meet, but said they had time to make changes to the state code before it goes into effect in 2021.

In preparation for the upcoming sub-work group meetings, Erler said he would like to hear from residents about any experiences of electric shock at their docks. Some homeowners have already shared their experiences at recent meetings at Smith Mountain Lake and Lake Anna. Erler said he is looking for any types of shock — from a mild electrical tingle to a full shock. Jim Erler can be reached at 434-953-6747 or

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