Gas Utility Service
Gas Utility Service photos: P 104-P 107
If the house is connected to the gas utility lines in the street, check the condition of the gas meter and gas lines. If the house isn't connected to any gas service lines, recommend to the client that they check with the local utility company. They'll need to find out what the costs are to hook up or if it's even possible to get gas service in the house. Some areas don't have natural gas service and the client might not know this. Don't just assume your client is aware of the lack of gas service lines in the street. You don't want him to be confronted with any surprises after he moves into the house.
The gas meter is usually located in the lower level or just outside the house next to the foundation. If the meter is inside the house, a remote reading device should be installed. This will allow the utility company to take the meter reading when no one is at home. Make sure there's a main shutoff valve near the gas meter for safety. This will enable the gas service to be turned off for repairs or an emergency. Next to the gas meter you find a gas regulator. This looks like a small, round saucer and is installed before the meter on the high pressure gas lines. A gas regulator has a similar operation to a water pressure reducing valve. Gas from the main lines in the street may have a high pressure rating. The gas regulator parts by the meter lowers the street gas pressure before it enters the house. Gas pressure entering the house should be lowered to about 4-5 inches per water column.
All gas service lines should be approved black iron gas piping. Often you'll find copper or flexible gas pipe connectors being used to supply appliances. There should not be any copper or flexible metals used for gas feed lines. If there are, then recommend they have a licensed plumber make any necessary repairs to bring the gas lines up to the building codes. Some areas do allow copper and flexible pipe to be used to hook up appliances. However, even if the local building codes allow this, it's not as safe as using black iron pipe.
If you smell or detect any gas leaks IMMEDIATELY tell the client, all third parties and the homeowner to contact the local utility company to make repairs. Leaking gas will explode!!!
If the gas lines are rusty, recommend that they be painted. You might want to purchase a hand held combustible gas detector to check the visible gas lines and the meter for any gas leaks. If you smell or detect any gas leaks IMMEDIATELY ell the client, all third parties and the homeowner to contact the local utility company to make repairs. Leaking gas will explode!!! So don't take any chances. It's common to find minor gas leaks at some of the pipe joints. Gas pipe joints can come loose over time and need to be tightened and caulked periodically. Don't panic if you find a gas leak. Just call the utility company and they should send someone over immediately to make repairs. Also, if there is a strong gas odor in the house, don't use the telephones or turn on any light switches or electric appliances. Using any electrical items can create a spark and cause a serious buildup of gas to explode!
I'm not trying to scare you away from houses with gas service. The gas utility company in my area says there are a minimal number of cases of house explosions due to gas leaks. Natural gas is colorless and odorless when it comes from the earth. The gas utility companies put the odor into the gas before it reaches your house. The reason they put the odor in the gas is so that it's easier to detect a gas leak. If you couldn't see or smell a gas leak, then you wouldn't be aware of a problem until after an explosion occurred. The gas utility company in my areas feels that any serious gas leaks will create an easily detected odor in the house. This should allow the occupants to safely leave the home prior to an explosion.
You may find drip traps on the gas supply lines for the heating system and hot water heater. A drip trap is a small "dead end" section of the gas pipe installed just before the burners. The purpose of the drip trap is to catch some of the moisture and dirt before it clogs the gas burners. They were used when gas was produced at plants because this type of gas has too much moisture in it. Drip traps are not needed anymore due to the use of natural gas as opposed to man-made gas. Natural gas is dry and does not have a moisture problem.
Some houses have Propane Gas or Liquid Petroleum Gas service, also called LPG. This is similar to getting oil deliveries because the tanks are filled by a local LPG gas supplier. Propane and LPG are two different names that refer to the same thing. Check the condition of the gas tanks for any rust or corrosion. The life expectancy of propane and LPG tanks depends upon the maintenance given to them. Usually, the gas supplier owns the tanks and rents them to the homeowner. Make sure that the tank is properly leveled on a sturdy foundation. If the tank settles unevenly, it could create a leak in the gas lines. Copper pipe is allowed for LPG gas lines in some areas. Recommend that the client check with town hall to make sure all valid permits are on file for gas tanks.
Tell your client not to bring any gas tanks into the house, such as exterior barbecue tanks or automobile gas cans. Barbecue gas tanks are under extreme pressure, like scuba diving tanks. If they ever exploded, they would cause extensive damage and probably kill someone!!
I'll give you some interesting facts concerning the accuracy of utility company meters. You and your client might want to know this. Gas, electric and water meters have a typical life expectancy of 7-8 years. When a certain model of meters gets old, the utility company will do a random check on some of them. This is done to determine if these meters are still giving accurate readings. I see houses all the time that have utility meters that are over 25 years old! Meters that are past their life expectancy have a higher chance of being inaccurate. Water meters are supposedly the least accurate when they get old. If your client calls the local utility companies, he can find out what date the current meters were installed. From this information it's easy to conclude if the meters are old and should be replaced. In my area the utility company doesn't charge to change an old meter. However, they don't voluntarily do it unless you call to insist upon it.
Utility bill auditing has become a growing home-based business due to the inaccuracy of utility meters. Someone providing this service will generally charge a percentage of the refund money they obtain for you. As a result, if they don't get you a refund, then you don't pay any fees! Not a bad arrangement for the homeowner. If you suspect that your utility company is overcharging you, then contact a utility bill auditor or you local utility supplier. Just be aware that when you call your local utility company and question the accuracy of their meter - they're probably going to get very defensive! This has happened to me with my rental properties. I found out from the utility company that some of the meters were installed over 20 years ago. When I questioned why my bills were so high for some months, they would insist that they're meters are always accurate. Don't be scared off by this smoke screen. I'm convinced that utility company employees are trained to try and persuade people out of disputing their meter readings.
If a customer feels that a meter is inaccurate there are several options to take. Call your local Public Service Commission that oversees the utility company rates. Tell them you want your meters tested for accuracy. If your meters are old, then you can insist that they be replaced as well. Your PSC bureau will give you a case number for your claim. From this point, they'll contact the utility company to have your meters replaced and tested. It only takes about 10 minutes to change a utility meter. So don't be worried that you'll be without water, gas or electric while they're testing your meter. When the old meter is removed, a new one is installed in its place immediately. The old meter is then tagged and brought to the utility company testing location. You should get the results of the test in about one month.
There's another important point to this story. Remember to call the PSC to test your meter and not just the utility company. When you get a case number from the Public Service Commission, then they will have one of their employees oversee the meter tests. If you only call the utility company, then the PSC is not there to oversee the meter testing. It's a total conflict of interest if you only have the utility company employees present for the testing. What if the meter reading is high and you've been overcharged for the past 10 years? How much incentive does the utility company have to refund all your money?