A demonstration of why I'm happy we use heat pumps in our home occurred
yesterday when a house in the next town to ours was destroyed by a gas
The news reports today said that the gas company (Keyspan) admitted that
some kind of goof caused high pressure gas to be fed into to low
pressure gas mains, with not unexpected results.
One possible freak accident causing your house being destroyed is slightly
reduced. What if the main in the street breaks and the gas follows up
your sewer trench into the house. It happened around here. You'd better
buy one of those composting toilets.
Lord, protect me from those to whom you speak directly
All salute the new age, and I hope nobody escapes
I used to work for a gas utility. A standing "sick" joke with employees was
that the gas company did not blow up paying customers, because most
everytime the gas leaked (some old mains were over 100 years old and made of
cast iron) it would follow up a sewer line into a house or building of a
non-customer. People who were afraid of having gas installed in their house
were not saved by being a non-customer, the gas explosion could still get
you. By the way, officially, the word explosion was never used, it was an
It happened here a few years ago too!
It sticks in my mind because I had just pulled my oil furnace and switched
to natural gas. A gent I worked with at the time thought I was crazy to put
gas in my house. "Your house could blow up!" Then he cited where his
neighbors house had blown up from a NG leak a few months before. Again the
funny side of it all is the house did not have gas supplied to it! The main
in the street leaked and the gas followed the water or sewer main into the
house. I just countered with, "you are damned if you do and damned it you
don't, so you may as well heat with gas!!"
When I think about it, I don't know of any home in the area, that was
supplied with gas, ever blow up, except for the occasional intentional leak!
We had on a few years ago where the guy beat his wife damn near to death
then cracked a gas line in the house and left her for dead. She was able to
get out of the house before it blew. The fire department found her laying in
the back yard while putting out the fire.
No form of energy used in a home is without some element of risk. It's a
case of trading comfort and convenience against the risk of dying, however
slight that risk may be. It is quite possible that there may be more
electrical fires than gas fires. Does anyone have the figures on the number
of deaths in homes caused by the different forms of energy?
I hear what you say, Bob.
But, since it would be pretty inconvenient for us to live without
electricity, I do believe I am lowering our risks by not having an
*additional* flammable/flaming fueled system inside my house.
I watched the electrical work being done when we had the place built,
and I have the education and experience to know how to avoid creating
dangerous electrical conditions when doing repairs or modifications myself.
That's why I wrote what I did in my OP. Nothing is totally risk free,
but I'd just as soon live without gas or oil in my house than with it
there, since I can keep the place comfortable warm for very little more
fuel cost with our new heat pumps, and likely lower overall maintenance
expenses than if I had a "furnace" in our home.
Happened in Chicago a few years ago. Took out whole blocks. Seems that
instead of having individual regulators on each house, Chicago allowed one
regulator per few blocks. THe one regulator went bad and lots of fires
resulted as the extra pressure caused the furnaces to shoot out flames.
IT happens. I can point out a few stories about electric heaters burning
down houses too.
Same thing happened here in Battle Creek, MI, a few years ago. Gas Co was
working on outside plant, and connected a hi-pressure line to a low-pressure
branch serving an older neighborhood. They had to activate their doomsday
plan, call out all 3 shifts of fire and police, etc. 2 or 3 houses flat
destroyed, several dozen damaged, and they had to shut off gas to most of
the north side while they sorted it all out. Some blocks were without gas
for a week or more, while they checked every street valve and every meter
for damage, and did a free service call and relight for every house. Never
saw any court suits about it, so I think the Gas Co. settled the claims as
quick as they came in. Good thing it was daytime, and nobody died, and only
The "high pressure" line (reportedly) was 60 psi, the normal street line (which
the high pressure was accidentally connected to) pressure is only 2 psi. When I
first heard "high pressure" line accidentally hooked up, I thought they were
referring to the Tennessee Gas interstate lines that serve the local utility
companies in Eastern Massachusetts towns. Those lines have 600-1500 psi in
them!!! TN Gas spends a lot of effort maintaining their infrastructure, probably
more than Keyspan (the local gas utility).
Several reports have stated that the regulator should have prevented too much
pressure in the house even after the pressure mismatch. Is this true? Can the
regulator next to the meter reliably regulate when the supply pressure is that
Then again I don't think there were any other leaks inside houses on that street
other than the one house that was destroyed, so perhaps everyone else's
regulators worked ok.
Many regulators are designed to handle only so much inlet pressure. Over the
rated pressure they "lock out", or just slam shut, stopping the gas flow. It
is possible that many regulators do not do this, or the diaphragm in the
regulator ruptured from the excessive gas pressure, spewing gas out the
Last year, I had Keyspan Energy (the same utility that blew up the Lexington
house) replace our regulator. It was making a funny noise whenever the hot
water heater was running. It took quite a bit of time before I figured out that
this strange noise was ocurring when the hot water heater burner was on, and
then that it was actually coming from outside because it sure didn't sound like
it was. Keyspan took four or five four-hour service appointments (most of which
they never showed up) before they finally got it fixed. Along the way they
replaced the gas meter for some reason, but of course that didn't fix the
problem. The problem was the regulator was sucking air in through the vent, and
the diaphram inside was vibrating as air went past, causing the noise which then
resonated through the gas pipes. I've wondered if this air introduced into the
gas line would cause the appliances to operate incorrectly
There are also excess flow valves, which shut off the gas if too much gas enters
the house at once. The NTSB strongly recommends excess flow valves after a
tragic accident that blew up a brand new house and killed a family during their
first night in their new house. Unfortunately they usually aren't required for
new service and cost a mint to install for existing service, and Keyspan said
the customer would have to pay for one if one was available at all. I think
the new propane grill tanks have excess flow valves built in.
We don't have Keyspan here, but we do have C-Span. It forces
Congressional sessions and committee hearings into our houses and must
be responsible for almost as many adverse medical incidents as
I think hot air is the pressure source, but I'm not sure what the
maximum expected pressure is.
Remove NOPSAM to email me. Please let
me know if you have posted also.
I once (long ago) worked for a long haul transmission company. We flew
the lines regularly looking for stuff like dead crops that indicated
below-surface leaks. Every few years the pilots would spot a farmer
with a drill trying to install his own "farm tap." 1500 psi lines,
those were, as I recall. Luckily the steel was thick enough that the
farmers didn't succeed, or we'd have fewer farmers.
The e-mail address in our reply-to line is reversed in an attempt to
minimize spam. Our true address is of the form firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every year at least one house blows up from gas. OTOH, 50,000 people are
still killed in automobile accidents every ear and we still drive every day.
Oil tanks, leak, people get electrocuted. None of these seem to make much
If gas was available for my house, I'd hook up tomorrow. Thanks, I'll take
Agreed. But, when a few pet dogs got electrocuted walking on wet
pavement here in Boston within the last year, due to buried exposed live
conductors, the papers and TV were full of the news about it for days.
And, some pet shops experienced a minor bonaza when they started selling
rubber booties for fidos.
Your welcome to it. As I just said in another post here, I think I'm
reducing (But certainly not eliminating) our risks by sticking with just
one fuel (electricity) in our home.
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