Gas company compromises customer safety
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 was provided routinely by natural gas providers. When I called my gas company, I was told it no longer performs free diagnostic services and haven't done so for several years. I also learned they didn't appreciate your article and were planning to bring this to your attention. Just thought you'd like to know.
A: Thanks for pointing this out. Unfortunately, some gas companies have adopted this ill-advised policy change. Hopefully, this will not be an industrywide trend. Here are some reasons why:
Natural gas, as a fuel source, is practical, convenient and reasonably priced, but as everyone knows, it is also potentially dangerous. Gas companies recognize the risks of fires, explosions and carbon monoxide poisoning associated with natural gas use, which is why most of them have always provided safety inspections upon request. These services typically include adjustment of gas burners, testing for gas leaks and for carbon monoxide, and verifying compliance with applicable safety standards.
Unfortunately, some gas companies have chosen to cut costs by abandoning this commendable tradition. Consequently, a reliable pillar of public safety infrastructure has been eliminated in some municipalities, such as your own. This is a regrettable change that warrants serious reconsideration.
Q: Our garage ceiling has a drop-down ladder, providing easy access to the attic. When we bought the property, our home inspector said this access violated the firewall between the garage and the dwelling. Is there a reasonable way to correct this problem while retaining 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 home. If the garage attic and house attic are not also separate by a firewall, the garage ceiling becomes part of the required firewall.
Homeowners are typically unaware of such requirements and often violate the fire-rated ceiling by installing a folding ladder as an attic access. This defect is commonly reported in many home inspection reports. Fortunately, there are three possible solutions to the problem:
• You can eliminate the garage access by covering the opening with 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 attics, the framing for a firewall is already partially or completely in place. If the wall framing is complete, fire-rated drywall with taped joints can be applied.
• The manufacturers of some folding access ladders make kits for retrofitting their ladders to comply with fire-separation requirements. 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.
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