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Thursday, January 14, 2010

St. Paul requires special gas valve for vacant homes

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Anonymous Pioneer Press said...

Goal is to prevent buildup and blasts
By Dave Orrick
Updated: 01/13/2010 11:38:57 PM CST

St. Paul began enforcing a new rule Wednesday that calls for a 3-inch valve just downstream of a home's gas meter in hopes it will make the difference between a vacant home and an exploding home.

The program, which might be the first of its kind in the country to address gas leaks in vacant buildings, requires owners of some of St. Paul's nearly 1,600 vacant buildings to install an "excess-flow valve" to reduce the chances that natural gas will build up undetected and then ignite when something causes a spark.

"Even static electricity can do it," said St. Paul Fire Chief Tim Butler, as he stood outside a vacant house in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood Wednesday where city contractors had just installed a valve.

Butler said he was watching a televised report about a year ago about a vacant metro home that exploded after a natural gas leak went undetected and thought about how easily firefighters could have been killed. "I said to myself, 'There ought to be a law,' " he said.

Weather and other natural factors can cause gas to flow unheeded into a vacant home, but other culprits often are vandals or thieves who strip pipes to sell as scrap metal.

City building officials first considered requiring owners of vacant homes in which gas remained operational to turn off the gas or install security cameras, but the real estate community opposed such requirements. Keeping a house heated in the winter greatly improves the chances of selling it and reduces the chances of the cold causing damage, said Pat Igo, a real estate agent.

"This is a good compromise," Igo said Wednesday.

The compromise was this: Only homes that require major improvements or building code fixes — homes likely to remain vacant longer — are affected. Owners of such homes need to have the valve installed unless the gas is shut off or if contractors are working on the home. If an owner fails to install the valve, the city will do it and charge the owner about $160 for the part and $375 for the labor, city officials said.

About 600 vacant homes could be affected, said Bob Kessler, director of St. Paul's Department of Safety and Inspections.

The city council passed the requirement, with the support of Mayor Chris Coleman, in late spring, and officials recently began enforcing it.

If the flow of gas into the house exceeds a level necessary for the building's gas appliances, the valve shuts off all gas to the house. The valve won't stop the flow if, for example, a boiler's pilot light has gone out, so it's not a guarantee against gas building up, a city-hired installer said.

St. Paul officials and one building inspector association said they are unaware of any other city using excess-flow valves exclusively for vacant buildings. The devices are required in all buildings in a number of earthquake-prone areas, including San Francisco and Oakland.

8:00 AM  
Blogger Swiftee said...

The problem isn't the gas valves in vacant houses, it's the gas bags in city hall.

1,600 abandoned that a metro record?

9:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

More crazy regulation from the looney left. I wouldn't buy a home in that city for all the rice in China

6:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They must be planning to create more vacant homes. When they get to 20,000 vacant homes in town, and also accelerate the stampede to get out, they will probably need gas relief.

9:27 PM  

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