Saturday, November 13, 2010

I've Got Gas & I Couldn't Be Happier !!

Oh wait-- let me explain...   I've got propane gas and couldn't be happier.

Our home has had natural gas service for decades. Once we replaced the original boiler, we've had little to no problems. Why replace the boiler, you ask?

Prior to purchasing our home we had a home inspection done. The inspector took one look at the boiler and laughed. Apparently this old McKeesport Furnace boiler was close to 75 years old. According to the inspector they were meant to last 30 years. The pilot light on this big girl was at least 6 inches high. Not really a "green" boiler. We could either replace the boiler or start roasting hot dogs.

So my husband and his brother chop her out of there, loaded her on the truck, and took her to the scrap yard. She weighed 500 lbs. We got 50 bucks.

We filled in the mysterious well she had been resting in (probably from when cement was originally poured in the basement), moved some pipes and the expansion tank (which was on the third floor), and installed a new furnace. No more flame-thrower pilot light.

She hides behind a screen from my pre-marriage girlie house. It was a temporary screen meant to last only "until we find a nice one." Apparently, things in our 200 year old house mysteriously last a long time. Hope we do!

Things went along fine for the next 15 years. In September, when the gas bill came, my husband said, "How could we have used more gas in July than we used last December?" We obviously don't heat in July and to be honest, we rarely use the stove in the summer. We grill.

When you have gas service, the homeowner is responsible for the gas line once it leaves the meter. Most meters are on the house or someplace like the edge of the lot by the road. To get to our meter... go to the end of the driveway and walk up the hill past the cemetery.
Never mind the scid marks in the road, that's another story involving deer and speeding teenagers.

Then you head on out the flat stretch...

... "for a piece" as they say around here...

 ... and cut down to the right when you get to Mr. B's driveway.

Go on down the hill ...

... take that first hard left,

...and go down the hill past where the trees and weeds are up against the guard rail. When you get to that open spot, stand by the rail and look down into the sheep field.

You see that little white thing sticking up way down there? The one on the left, not the right.

Yea, there it is. That's our gas meter. Our line comes up that hill and under the road. That nice little walk we just had? We walked right over our line.

Half a mile.

My husband had shut everything off at the house before we left on our walk. When we got to the meter the little dial on the lower left was still turning.

hundred stack again
by Daniel Scally via Flickr

You know that sinking feeling, right? That gaping darkness that opens up somewhere between your stomach and your heart? You feel yourself trying really hard not to panic but all you see are dollar signs flying in front of your eyes.

So we called the gas company,
               who sent out the boys,
                         who didn't find anything wrong.

                                  On a Friday afternoon at 4:30pm they didn't find anything wrong.


They shut the gas off at the meter. They said.

The next day, the little dial was still making its trip around the world. My husband took a wrench and shut the meter off.

Fortunately, my husband knows a good guy from his biker days who is a heating and plumbing guy and he came out to see what was going on with our gas. Old Tailpipe Tom did a bunch of head shaking that day. His quote to my husband was, "I can't believe this house hasn't been blown off the map."

We declined to elaborate on some of the the wiring we found when we were tearing out walls. Scary stuff, man.

Yes, regulations have gotten tighter in the years since our gas line was put in but let's just say that the fella we bought our house from was resourceful. A child of the depression, he knew very well how to make do with whatever was on hand.

He didn't need no stinkin' inspector.

So do you know how much it costs in our part of the world to replace a half mile of gas line that goes under a state road (in a culvert for cryin' out loud!) and the neighbors driveway?

One Million Dollars
by JBlaze B via Flickr


Yes, that's right- a fair chunk of Zippy's college tuition.

We could have paid a mere few hundred to find and fix the leak but given the undetermined age of the line it would just be a matter of time before another leak sprouted. We know that the old cast iron line was replaced with plastic sometime in the 30 years prior to when we bought the house but no one could vouch for just how much of that line was actually replaced.

So we went with propane.

Late September we started digging.

First the trench for the line from the tank to the house.

Hope my rhododendron survived.

Yes, under the sidewalk. You hammer re-bar through with a sledge hammer and then run the conduit through to the other side.

Then the hole for the actual tank. Guess what we discovered? No, not the buried treasure.

A second gas line.

Surprise !

Our neighbor fella, who does this sort of thing for a living and who replaced the first line, then started remembering that they had to re-do the line for some reason but he couldn't remember why. It was that long ago. Probably something to do with a stinkin' inspector.

Let me just say that it's really handy to have neighbors who dig in the dirt for a living. They have super cool toys, several of which my husband put on his Christmas wish list. I'm proud of him--- it's good to dream big and have high aspirations. I wish him all the luck with Santa this year because he got a 500 gallon tank of propane for his birthday.

Then we ran the line, filled that in, hooked up the inspector-approved gadgets, covered the tank hole so deer and dogs wouldn't fall in, and waited. For several weeks. We grilled, we microwaved, we ate salads. We snuggled under the electric blankets on those 27 degree nights. We managed.

One day last week I came home from work to find my husband shovelling sand in around our new tank. Now all you can see is the top of the access port at ground level in the middle of what was once our garden.

The weather turned warm again once we got the propane hooked up to the furnace and it has only come on once. But now we can use the stove. I've been keeping an eye on it and propane seems to run about 15 to 20 degrees warmed in the oven.

The last hurdle is the ventless gas fireplace we put in the living room about 7 years ago. It needs to be converted to accept propane. There is only one radiator on the first floor and it is in the hallway. The hall and utility room stay nice and toast-y in the winter but the living room- not so much. The fireplace really does the trick for us and is the primary heat source for the space where we spend the vast majority of our time.

But, of course it couldn't be easy. The company that made our fireplace was purchased by another company and this line of fireplaces was discontinued. Regulations, changes in sizes, inspectors, can't find replacement parts or inserts, blah blah blah.

When my husband called me last night, I was in the parking lot in front of a large home remodelling store. He tried to gently tell me that we can't get the parts we need and could I please look at new fireplaces. More dollar signs flew past my eyes.

I admit it- I finally broke down and cried. After 14 years in our antique house, one surprise and misadventure after another, and still waiting to find the buried treasure, I finally cried. Like a baby, as a matter of fact. All night. In the store looking at fireplaces (none of which were the right size to avoid cutting out carpet and all of which were incredibly ugly), in the drive-through at McDonald's, waiting for my kid to come out of basketball practice, in bed with the covers over my head. I cried and prayed all night because seriously, 14 years is a long time to hold your breath.

And this morning, the first thought in my mind when I opened my eyes was,

"It's still less than $20,000."

So if you have an insert for a 10 inch deep vent-less propane gas fireplace, let me know quick because otherwise we'll need to go with the entire new fireplace before it gets cold again. The one that will fit the base is a different finish than we have so we could stain it, or paint the whole thing. And then it's a good time to up-date the fireplace mantle decor so maybe some nice candles and a painting ............

It's not so bad.

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