Friday, January 26, 2007

Once More In To The Ditch

I had a Petch House miracle today. I ran new natural gas lines for the dryer and for the bathroom heater and I did it with only one trip to the hardware store Gasp! I know, it’s pretty amazing. I mapped out the pipes. Measured under the house. Went to the store and bought the pipe and fittings. And everything fit on the first try! If you didn’t know any better you might start to think I know what I’m doing.

I started referring to my little home away from home under the house as “The Ditch”. It sort of feels like your laying in a ditch when you’re under there. Once you crawl under the house you have about 3 or 4 feet of level ground and then it starts to slop upwards. About 10 feet away there is a big tree stump under the house and all of the ground for a good 8 to 10 feet around it slopes up towards the stump. The stump is cut off about a few inches from the bottom side of the sub floor under the butler’s pantry. Because of the slope it feels like you’re laying in a ditch under there.

I’ve gotten accustomed to working around the stump, but went I first started working under the house a few years ago it was spooky with a capital S. The stump is still pretty much intact, but there a little cubby holes and nooks and crannies all around it. You just never know what the hell might be living in there.

More importantly than everything going smooth as silk with the pipe fitting was the fact that I had no leaks! Needless to say, natural gas leaks under the house are a bit more troublesome than water leaks. They are also a lot harder to detect. Gas is lighter than air and so it will collect in the joist bays and pool until a spark sends your house flying off the foundation. They make a soapy solution you can use to help find leaks. You brush it on the fittings and watch for bubbles. That is helpful if you know you have a leak and you’re trying to find it.

What I do is when I cut off the gas before I start working I write down the readings on the meter and use those as a bench mark to see if everything is OK when I turn it back on. I also close all the valves where the pipe feeds in to appliances in the house. After everything is hooked back up I wait an hour or so and look for any changes in the meter. I used to wait over night but I feel more confident now. After running dozens of yards of gas pipe, with hundreds of fittings I’ve had only one leak the whole time.

That one leak was when I plumbed most of the house for natural gas a few years ago. Residential natural gas runs at about a quarter of a PSI. Very, very low pressure. To get inspected I had to fill the pipes up with 20 PSI of air and then the inspector would come by and watch the gauge for a few minutes to make sure it didn’t drop. If it dropped that meant I had a leak. Twenty PSI is about 80 times normal pressure the gas lines will see.

Anyway, I got everything hooked up and filled the pipes with 20 PSI of air and I had just the tiniest of leaks. It was so slight that at 10 PSI it didn’t even leak. I crawled around under the house for days brushing on the sudsy leak solution trying to find the leak and I couldn’t find it. It was so frustrating. I went to some on-line plumbing forums and one guy suggested I go up to 30 PSI and mix up a solution of half dishwashing liquid and half water and brush that on. Sure enough that worked.

I had a plug in a T fitting that was supposed to be for my future laundry room dryer. The plug was a piece of crap, or maybe it got a little dirt in it, or whatever. I replaced the 39 cent plug with a new one and the leak went away. That T with the plug is the very same T fitting I hooked everything up to today. That’s what made me think of it.

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