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posted: 6/21/2013 4:42 AM

Gas company shortchanges customer safety

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Q. In one of your articles, you recommended calling the gas company for a free safety checkup of gas-burning fixtures such as furnaces, water heaters and ranges. You said this service is provided routinely by natural gas providers. When I called my gas company, they said they no longer perform free diagnostic services and haven't done so for several years. I also learned they did not appreciate your article and were planning to bring this to your attention. Just thought you'd like to know.

A. Some gas companies have adopted this unfortunate change of policy. Hopefully this will not become an industrywide trend.

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Gas companies provide us with a fuel source that is indispensable, reasonably priced, but also potentially hazardous. Recognizing the risks of fire, explosions and carbon monoxide poisoning, gas companies have historically been proactive in guarding the safety of their customers, including safety inspections upon request. These services typically include adjustment of burners, testing for gas leaks and for carbon monoxide, verifying compliance with safety standards, and much more.

Unfortunately, some gas companies have chosen to cut costs by abandoning this commendable tradition. Consequently, a reliable pillar of our public safety infrastructure is gradually being undermined. This is a regrettable change of policy that warrants reconsideration.

Q. Our garage has a drop-down attic access ladder in the ceiling. When we bought the property, our home inspector said this was a violation of the firewall between the garage and the house. Is there a reasonable way to correct this problem and still retain storage access from the garage?

A. Walls that separate a garage from a dwelling are required to comply with one-hour fire-rated construction standards. This requirement is intended to slow the spread of a garage fire into the living areas of the dwelling. When the garage attic and house attic are not also separated in this way, the garage ceiling becomes part of the required firewall.

Homeowners are typically unaware of such requirements and often compromise the fire-rated ceiling by installing a folding ladder as an attic access. This has become a commonly reported defect in many home inspection reports. Fortunately, there are three practical solutions to the problem:

• You can eliminate the access by covering the opening with 5/8-inch fire-rated drywall. Unfortunately, this also eliminates the storage access.

• You can construct a firewall in the attic, separating the garage attic from the house attic. In many cases, the framing is already partially or completely in place. Once the wall framing is complete, just apply 5/8-inch fire-rated drywall and tape the seams.

• The manufacturers of some folding access ladders make kits for retrofitting their ladders to comply with fire separation requirements. Just check the label on the ladder and contact the manufacturer to see if a fire-door upgrade kit is available.

• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.

Action Coast Publishing

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