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Old Gas Light Piping

Many of the homes in Riverwest were built before electric lighting was common, and people used Kerosene lamps and candles. Then along came manufactured gas, derived from coal. Piping was installed in the homes around the turn of the last century (1900) for gas lighting. At night people would turn a valve at the light fixture to ignite the light. Needless to say it was not very safe. Between about 1900 and 1910 people started to have electric lights installed. This original wiring was called knob and tube; next month I’ll write about this wiring. The light fixtures were often hung from the old gas piping. This old gas piping is many times still being used to bring gas to kitchen stoves and heating equipment and is still live. I will probably never forget the day I found out that that old gas piping in my home was still live. I was doing a repair that required me to remove part of the walk-up attic floor. I set my circular saw to cut just a little bit deeper than the old ” thick boards. As I was cutting I noticed a spark. I thought I hit a nail. A few minutes later I smelled gas. I quickly pulled up the floorboards and discovered that when the gas light piping was installed they notched the top of the wood support joists and ran the pipes tight to the bottom of the floorboards. The saw cut just deep enough to cut into the gas pipe and it was leaking into the attic fast. I opened all the windows as fast as I could and ran into the basement to turn off the gas at the meter. This shut off the gas flow but now the boiler, water heater, and kitchen stove were not working and it was winter and Sunday. I had to fix it myself and soon. I spent four years in the Navy working on steam and water piping, and I own my own plumbing tools. I would not recommend working on gas piping yourself unless you have plenty of experience. I was able to trace the pipes out and find the feed to the attic. I capped off the pipe leading to the attic. I was then able to restart the boiler and water heater but the gas stove was still dead. The emergency was over. I hired a plumber to run a new gas line to the stove and check the rest of the gas pipes for safety. The moral of this story is that if you live in a home that was built before 1920 you may have old live gas piping that should be disconnected. Look for small (usually 3/8″) pipes protruding from the wall or ceiling with a cap, or sometimes the old gas lamp valve is still in place. If you suspect that you may have this piping have a plumber or heating contractor investigate. I know plumbers can be expensive, but local plumbers are efficient and well trained and have a big truck full of tools and parts. Checking for live gas piping would not take long and disconnecting is also often easy for the plumber to do. Your safety and piece of mind is well worth the price. If you have a question for the “Ask the Inspector” column, please send it to Mark Thomas, Milwaukee Home Inspection, 933 East Hadley St., Milwaukee, WI 53212. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 4 – April 2003

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