The wreckage in San Bruno, California is a not so subtle warning of future accidents due to the thousands of miles of aging gas pipes that are buried all over the country. Check out this website and see how many of these lines are near your home or business:
npms.phmsa.dot.gov Click the NPMS public Map Viewer button and then enter your state and county. Some residents claimed they had been smelling gas for several weeks prior to the accident. It is shame that the government has allowed the gas companies to do their own inspections and to choose when and where to make repairs when the public’s safety is at risk.
At Around the Town, we work on and around gas piping on a daily basis and one of our pet peeves is finding this piping damaged. Nearly every time we find this situation, it is due to negligence. When we find a situation like this, it adds cost to the project and the customer is usually upset as these costs were not anticipated.
Exterior gas lines are rarely seen and therefore not a big deal for most property owners. However, exterior gas leaks can be an extremely dangerous situation. If you smell gas outside, clear the area immediately and call 911. Depending on your location, you may be responsible for some portion of your exterior gas lines. In my neck of the woods, from the edge of the sidewalk to the gas meter is my responsibility.
I know this because several years ago we had a pretty severe car accident and one of the rolled over vehicles ended up in my yard and severed the gas line from the street to my meter. Needless to say, this created an incredibly dangerous situation for all involved. Luckily ,the fireman that responded had the ability to shut the gas line down within minutes. Prior to that incident ,I had no idea where my utility lines were located and no knowledge of who was responsible for repairing them. During the repairs, I was able to procure detailed maps of all gas, electric, cable, and phone lines located on my property. In most states, it is the law to call before you dig. Please do so as hitting utilities is expensive, and if you did not call and hit something, you are going to pay through the nose for all repairs. The insurance companies duked it out for nearly a year over that accident and in the end the vehicle owner was responsible for nearly $4800.00 in repairs on my property. So call before you dig. In Illinois the JULIE # is 811 or 1-800-892-0123.
The following will prevent damage to your interior gas piping:
Never hang anything from the gas pipes. A better rule of thumb is never hang anything on any pipe or conduit. Nothing gets Ed at Around the Town fired up like finding the gas, plumbing, and electrical pipes being used as additional closet space. Clothing on hangars is heavy and the pipes are simply not designed to carry that weight.
Pay attention to contractors working around your pipes and conduits. We have seen quite a few situations where customers had basements and attics remodeled and during the process lines were incorrectly altered or moved to accommodate door openings, ceilings, or cabinets. Several weeks ago, I did a new homeowner inspection and found that the recently added suspended ceiling in the basement had been attached to both the gas and water lines in 39 different locations creating a potentially dangerous situation!
Verify that the persons performing these alterations are qualified to do so. Pay the same attention to all ductwork. Improper ventilation can lead to Carbon Monoxide Poisoning or worse.
Have a qualified technician inspect your gas lines on a yearly basis. It is fairly easy to see a leaky water pipe but gas leaks can go unnoticed. Gas can build up and create a dangerous health condition or possibly an explosion. A qualified technician will bring specialized equipment such as a methane detector and will be able to track down a leak in minutes as opposed to hours with a brush and soapy water.
Around the Town verifies that all pipe unions and joints from the meter to your furnace, boiler, and appliances are in serviceable condition prior to completing any service call.
In recent years, I have read several studies that note that our sense of smell begins to decrease in the seventh decade of life. This puts a large portion of elderly property owners at risk as they may have difficulty detecting mercaptan, the rotten egg smelling chemical added to warn us of a natural gas leak. Natural Gas detectors should be installed in any structure where a person with a damaged sense of taste or smell lives or works. (Years ago when I was single and traveling across the country, I passed through New London, TX, and during my visit, I visited the memorial for the victims of the New London School explosion that occurred in 1937. This horrendous accident was the primary reason the Natural Gas companies were forced to add these chemicals to their product.) Unfortunately, natural gas leaks do occur and every property owner needs to be aware of the signs that indicate a gas leak and take the appropriate action:
Smell of Gas – Leave the structure.
Do not call 911 or the gas company from your house phone.
Do not turn any switches on or off.
Do not unplug any appliances.
Do not light a match or any other source of ignition.
Get out and call 911, your local gas company, or a qualified technician.
Do not re-enter the structure until the leak has been found and repaired by a licensed technician.
If you are feeling dizzy, fatigued, nauseous, have a headache or irregular breathing when you are inside your home or business you may have a gas leak or a Carbon Monoxide problem. Leave the structure immediately. Call 911 as you may be experiencing asphyxia or lack of oxygen. Wait until a qualified technician has inspected the structure before you return.