A closer look at grounding
According to ARRL, grounds fulfill three distinct functions:
- Safety ground. This protects you from a shock hazard if one of the mains or high voltage power supply wires contacts the chassis due to some kind of fault. The requirements for this ground are spelled out in your state’s electrical code. I believe that most states adopt the National Electrical Code (NEC). The safety ground conductor in your wall sockets should be connected to ground according to this code, and your rig’s chassis should be connected to the safety ground.
- Lightning ground. The requirements for a ground for lightning protection are much more stringent than for a safety ground. The topic has been discussed in this group many times, and there are numerous resources available for learning how to make a ground system for lightning protection.
- RF ground. This is required only for certain types of antennas– ones which require current flow to ground to complete the antenna circuit. An example is a quarter-wave vertical. One wire of the feedline connects to the base of the antenna, and the other connects to ground. The connection to ground has to have a low RF resistance, or you’ll expend too much of your power heating the ground. A few radial wires will provide a moderately low loss connection. A ground rod will help a little, but the RF resistance will be high, resulting in quite a bit of loss. Chapter 8 of the ARRL Antenna Book shows the approximate trade between resistance and number of radials. If your antenna is much shorter than ¼ wavelength, you’ll need many, many radials to get reasonable efficiency. If it’s longer, you can get by with fewer. A ½ wavelength base-fed vertical needs only a very modest ground, and a ground rod is adequate. The requirements for various other end-fed antennas depend on their length. If you use a “complete” antenna like a dipole or a ground plane (that is, one that doesn’t require your feedline to connect to ground), you don’t need a RF ground, as long as you keep common-mode currents off your feedline. A “current” or “choke” balun is most commonly used for this.
MY TAKE AWAY
I’m already planning to use an end-fed half-wave antenna, a doublet, and a magnetic loop. These antenna choices don’t have heavy reliance on current flow to ground in order to complete the antenna. Therefore, an RF ground system is not so important for me. I don’t want to totally ignore this aspect of my shack design, and I still need to take care for safety and lightning grounding, but when deciding on a compromise, I’m going to place more emphasis on my feedline needs than my RF grounding needs.