Static Solution for Desk

| by Ken | in House & Home, Technology Add comments

I recently moved my office in the house to a room that’s going to work better for me.  I spent a lot of time working out the desk area and planning the desk surface and the chair area.  It’s worth it to plan because my butt spends so much time parked here.  The room was already carpeted and I didn’t really want to pull up the carpet – at least not at this time.  I kind of like the sound deadening that comes with the carpet and the floor underneath is nothing great.  But that meant I needed some sort of solution to having the chair roll around.  I tried just on the carpet and as expected, the chair squished in.  It was hard to move the chair and I was pretty certain the carpet would be wrecked within a few weeks.

I ordered a chair mat from The Chair Mat Office.  I needed the 48″ X 96″ one to fill the space and I filled out the dimensions to match what I needed.  I liked that I could choose the shape and dimensions.  And even have it tapered at the edges.  I didn’t like that I couldn’t order a thick anti-static mat.  The only anti-static option was too thin to go on carpet.  I thought about actually getting two and stacking them but the anti-static and the thicker ones both came with the spikes on the bottom so stacking wouldn’t work.  Besides, I didn’t think I’d have a static problem since I hadn’t really had one before.

The custom chair mat arrived and took a day or so to unroll and flatten out to the point where I could put it down.  (It was cold and the instructions warn against trying to force flatten it when it is cold.)  Pretty soon I realized I had two problems.  One is the modest carpet and carpet pad were too squishy so that as the chair rolled around on the mat, it made indentations.  That made it difficult to move and it also meant that the chair mat wouldn’t last as long as it should.  The other problem was static.  I was getting zapped when I was touching the keyboard – slightly painful for me but a serious risk for the computer.

For a couple of weeks I mulled over how to solve it.  Every time I sat down at the computer, I’d reach over and touch the metal cabinet next to the desk and the metal supports to dissipate any charge.  But sometimes I’d forget and get zapped.  And even if I did remember, it was still a pain – figuratively and literally.  I settled on a plan for grounding the desk and the chair mat to the house’s ground through a nearby electrical outlet.

The first step was to solve the problem of the mat being too squishy.  I marked the carpet with tape just inside the borders of the mat and then removed the mat.  I used a utility knife to cut through the carpet along the tape lines up to the wall.  Fortunately, either side of the mat area is under a drawer cabinet so I moved the cabinets out of the way and cut where they would be going back.  I did not cut the edge away from the wall and the part along the wall was on the tack strip.  Then I could roll the carpet back to the end of where I cut the edges.  I removed the carpet pad and cut it back a bit under the edges of the rug – sort of to where the mat would go over the rug.  Then, I put the rug back into place and put the mat back down on top.  Perfect.  The mat has a slight bit of give to it but it isn’t enough for the chair to leave an impression.

The next step was running copper tape under the desk surface.  Every time I pull myself to the desk, I can grip the underside and take care of any residual dissipation.  But that’s only the backup.  I still wanted to prevent me from being charged in the first place.  To do that, I ran conductive tape around the perimeter of the chair mat.  My thinking is that any charge on the mat would be carried through the conductive tape to the corner.  And at that corner, I wrapped some copper tape over the edge to meet with the conductive tape and clipped on an alligator clip.  The alligator clip was crimped onto one end of the wire and the other end of the wire was crimped on to a ring connector.  The ring connector screwed into the support for the desk in the same place where I ran the copper tape.  And then I attached another wire with a ring connector there and punched through the wall to go into the back side of the nearby outlet workbox.  And I twisted that wire with the house ground in the workbox.  (Note – if you copy me and it isn’t to code or you blow up your house or whatever, I don’t want to hear about it.)  That makes it so the copper tape and the chair mat both connect to the desk support which in turn is grounded to the house ground.  Perfect.

Except it didn’t work.  Well, the copper tape did a great job of being a backup.  I got zapped a lot from that.  No more zaps on the keyboard.  But I was still building up a charge in the first place.  That was really disappointing.  I ran some tests, although if you saw me it looked like I was having a seizure on the mat.  The goal was to build up a charge on the chair mat and test the dissipation.  There was zero automatic dissipation.  I needed to touch the alligator clip to have that work.  I did discover that if I lifted up the mat and touched the conductive tape on the bottom that I would also dissipate the charge.  So I could just cover the whole mat with conductive tape?  And it would have to be on the facing up side.  Apparently, the plastic mat is not at all conductive and the charge remains where it built up.  Damn.

That led to some more research into what makes an antistatic mat antistatic.  I didn’t find a complete answer that question but I did discover antistatic retrofits.  I could cover the whole mat with a conductive rubber sheet – a floor runner.  But they were really expensive and ugly.  Fine for a factory floor but not for an office with a carpet that you could see through the chair mat.  Another retrofit was the idea of treating the mat with some sort of coating to make it conductive.  But there’s no way that would work and even if it did work briefly, it wouldn’t last, right?

In desperation, I decided to give that a shot.  I ordered some Staticide.  The name sounds right, anyway.  I guess the theory is that the treatment leaves a conductive residue on the surface of wherever you spray it.  That should work perfectly with my grounded chair mat.  I sprayed it on the mat today.  Before I sprayed it, I was building up static.  After I sprayed it and it dried, no more static!  I don’t know if every time I walk over it in socks, I’m wiping up the residue making my socks slimy and removing the conductive film.  And I don’t know how long it will hold up to a chair rolling around on it.  But if I end up applying a couple of times each winter, that’s not so bad.  Seems like an easy fix.  And better than going with a thin anti-static mat that wouldn’t work over in the thin carpet I have.

For now I’m pleased.  I’ll update this post if I discover that the coating wears off or find that the fix was short-lived for some other reason.

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