Friday, April 14, 2006

Natural Gas Leak

I'm not a Conspiracy Theorist, but.....

Yesterday I wrote a post that mentioned the poor customer service I had received from the guy in charge of energy audits at Minnegasco/ Centerpoint Energy. After publishing that post, I went out into my living room to watch the news.

I immediately smelled the rotten egg aroma of natural gas. I went outside to see if was wafting through the window. Nope. I went downstairs to see if it was originating from down there. Bingo. The smell was very strong to my nose.

I called Minnegasco's "hot line" and asked them to send someone out to check. When the operator told me that if there was no answer at my door when their service people arrived, they would call a locksmith or break down the door.....I made a little joke about leaving the door unlocked before passing out. Turns out this is akin to making a bomb joke when going through TSA. For the record, poor judgement on my part and not recommended. Anywho.

The service guy arrived (to me sitting out on my front doorstep - to make up for my poor judgement joke). We went downstairs. He said he didn't smell anything. But as soon as he took out his detector, off went the alarm. Turns out that there was a leak at the controls for my hot water heater and a leak where the natural gas pipe enters my house. He tightened both joints and the smell went away. I asked him again if he really couldn't smell the rotten eggs smell. He said no.

This is strange to me because since I have moved into this house, this has happened two other times. I have smelled natural gas. The service guy has come out and told me they don't smell anything. Their detector's alarm goes off and we find a leak. They fix it and life goes on.

Now this little escapade has me wondering a few things:

1) Can these little leaks just happen spontaneuosly? Doesn't something have to happen to cause them?
2) Is this common to have this happen so frequently? I've never had so many gas appliances (clothes dryer, furnace, hot water heater, stove), so this is new to me.
2) Why can't these service men smell what I think is an overpowering smell? Do men have less ability to smell? (this would explain the 5 yrs I spent at a former job daily breathing in the overpowering aroma of a coworker's aftershave) Or do I just have an uber sense of smell?
4) Would this explain the sore throat & general fealing of crappiness I have had for the past week?
5) Could the audit guy at Minnegasco have a little botton he is able to push to create these leaks when he reads that he has been dissed on someone's blog? Or is that just paranoia?


ben said...

I read an article in the Farmer's Almanac a couple years ago that stated women have a keener sense of smell than men. This is why women are attracted to a good smelling guy and turned off by a body odor. On the whole, guys can't distinguish as many smells and really don't care how a woman smells as long as she's not repugnant. You'll notice the whole perfume industry is geared to women, too.

Ron said...

Well people do have different sensitivities to mercaptan(the stuff they add to make it smell). It is unlikely that amount of gas or mercaptan in the air could make you sick unless it was so dense that it was close to explosion. If I remember right from my chem. classes in college the threshold of perception is like 1000 or 10000 times less than is needed to actually ignite. My sense is that if you were in a room that was filled with gas that was ready to explode that it would be hard to breathe and feel almost like you we swimming in it. In all people so overhype gas that if someone smells anything from mineral spirits to burned olive oil they think it is natural gas and the entire neighborhood is about to explode. I would say that your crappy feelings and sore throat sound more like spring allergies than anything from gas.

Greg said...

When I ran new black pipe in my house I hooked all the new pipe for the first floor up to the old pipes that fed the second and third floors. The first floor is where most everything is that needs NG. The 2nd and 3 rd floor stuff I may never need but it’s there, so what the hell.

Residential NG comes in to the house at about ¼ PSI – very low. The meter outside is what regulates the flow from the main line. To test the new pipe I filled it with 20 PSI of compressed air. The old pipe was whistling and leaking all over the place at 20 PSI. Even though you have less than new pipes it shouldn’t be leaking so much. If you get another leak I was ask, beg, borrow, or steal a new meter from the power company. If the flow rate is spiking in to your house this could be causing leaks.

Also, remember that NG is lighter than air and needs to pool to become explosive. Joist bays and wall cavities are places this can happen.

StuccoHouse said...

Hey guys, thanks for the quick responses! I am really out of my element on this one.

Ben - I need to hunt down a copy of that Farmers' Alamanac article. The gas guys look at me as if I'm nuts when I tell them I smell a strong NG smell. And drat, all that perfume I bought over the years was a waste?! I just needed to be not repugnant?!

Ron - yea, I figured the general crappiness was allergies (which I have in spades);-) The weird thing about the sore throat is that when I went away for the weekend, it went away. Came back when I came home. And this morning it was gone. Dunno. Lol..obviously I'm not overly concerned or I wouldn't have made the little joke when I called the gas co :-)

Greg - thanks for the meter info. I went down to look at my meter after reading your comments. I'll post photos tomorrow. The meter looks to be new. Its inside my basement.I have one of those newfangled systems where they use my phone to call in the meter reading to the gas co. and I suspect they may have changed the meter when they isntalled that (?). The pipes entering the house, however, are another story. They are old & crusty.

My livingroom is above the meter, so the smell was coming up through the wall cavity or through the floor. As I went downstairs, the smell was strong at the bottom step (i.e. when your head is closest to the ceiling) and strongest right by the meter.

Geez, I hate this kind of stuff.

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