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Adventures in Home Improvement

The Gas Line Fiasco

August 25, 2002
Thursday started with a knock on the door from PG&E to inform me they were trying to locate a leak in the gas lines on our street and were turning off the gas to our house. When done, they would return to relight the pilot lights on our gas appliances. By 11:30 am I had to leave for Napa to help my dad out with his boat and run an additional phone line under his house. As I walked out the front door, I noticed PG&E had finished its digging, had resurfaced the street, and all their workers and equipment had left the area.

I returned from Napa quite tired that night at 9:30 pm. The outside temperature was down to 53, so Pat & I turned on the furnace. Still chilly, I checked the thermostat and noticed it was set to 67, so I bumped it up to 70. Seemed the air coming out of the ducts was cool, but I was too tired to think much about it and went to bed.

Friday morning when I got up, there was a note on the kitchen counter from Pat: "Check water heater. I think pilot light was blown out." Walking into my office I found a note from PG&E that Pat dropped on my desk that said, "Sorry we missed you." The light bulb went on in my head: We don't have any gas!

I called PG&E's number first thing that morning, and, of course, they wouldn't be able to get here until late in the afternoon. They showed up at 4:30 pm. Their first move was to go through the house and shut off the valves to all the appliances (oven, stove, furnace, and water heater). Next they turned on the gas at the meter. With nowhere to go, the meter should have stopped as soon as the line was filled with gas. It didn't. "You have a leak in your house lines. You'll need a plumber to fix and test it. Call us back when he's done and we'll turn your gas back on." It was now 5:30 pm on a Friday evening. I'm sure you know already where this is going!

The plumber on weekend call finally got back to us at 9:00 pm and offered to come out on Saturday around noon. Pat had managed to arrive home from work Friday while the PG&E guy was here and recalled that there was an underground gas line going to our garage that was no longer hooked up or being used; Pat added he had occasionally smelled gas while gardening in the back yard; we had never smelled gas in the house. Our house was built in 1924, and many things are not up to today's building codes. Laying galvanized steel gas pipes underground where they become subject to corrosion is one of them. The solution seemed simple: cut off and cap the line where it goes underground to the garage and the problem should be resolved. This concept was shared with the plumber and he agreed.

The plumber arrived Saturday morning at 11:30 am. We pointed in the crawlspace under the house where the gas line appeared to dive into the ground for its run out to the garage. He cut it, capped it, and started the line pressure test at the meter. No luck. No matter how much air he pumped into the line, the pressure gauge wouldn't budge. Ultimately he figured out that where we had cut the line going into the ground and out to the garage was actually the line coming from the meter and up into the house!

Monday morning the plumber will return to replace all of the gas lines under the house and into the walls to the affected appliances to the tune of $1,500 plus the necessary permits from the City of Oakland. In the meantime, two of our neighbors have offered their facilities for showering, dirty dishes are accumulating by the kitchen sink, a major cold spell has descended on the Bay Area which requires electric blankets on the beds in August to stay warm because we can't turn on the furnace, and cooked meals are restricted to what can be heated in a microwave.

Ah, the joys of home ownership!

August 28, 2002
Pat took Tuesday off from work to meet with the landscapers who were coming at 10 a.m. When the plumber finished installing and successfully testing the new gas lines under the house on Monday afternoon, I called the City to send over an inspector. The plumbing company had applied for the permit that morning and the permit office's policy is not to put the permit in the City's computer for 24 hours, consequently the inspector's office could not send out one of their folks for something that was not yet on their radar screen. So, first thing Tuesday morning I called again for an inspector and was told it was their policy not to send out an inspector for at least 24 hours after they could find the permit on the City's computer. Tuesday was not going to be a good day.

I spent the better part of the morning calling every number for the City's permit and inspection departments, trying to speak with a supervisor who would listen to our tale of woe: no showers since last Thursday, beards filling in from inability to shave, laundry accumulating on the washer, and our kitchen counters stacked with dirty dishes, pots, and pans. A supervisor's secretary (he was out of the office) took pity on us and promised to get the ball rolling. Next call went to the plumbing company to get their assurance they would get someone over here to perform the pressure test for the City inspector whenever he showed up.

During the meeting with the landscapers, the City permit supervisor's secretary called back to inform me an inspector would be calling me shortly, which he did; he would be here between 1:30 and 2:00 pm. I called the plumbing company and passed on the news; they guaranteed the plumber would be there on time. Before I can get back to the landscapers and Pat in the dining room, the phone rings again. This time, AT&T Broadband, our TV cable provider, saying they had just received my complaint filed with the City of Oakland back in June. Were we still having problems with the cable? Yes. Could we send someone over now? Certainly.

The landscapers left. In mid-afternoon the City inspector, the plumber, and the cable guy all showed up at the same time. The inspector passed the new gas lines with 1 btu to spare meaning if we add any more gas appliances to the house the new 3/4 inch lines will have to be replaced with 1 inch lines. The plumber crawled under the house and began reconnecting the gas lines to their respective appliances. At the same time, the cable guy crawled under the house to track down the problem with the TV cable. In the interim, Pat and I ran around the house caging ferrets and corralling cats.

Animals safe, gas finally on after five days, TV cable working properly for first time in three months. Now the plumber can't get the pilot lit on the oven! After a frantic fifteen minutes it occurs to him to push in the button on the dial and Voila! $2,100 for the plumber and the City permits; $1,000 retainer for the landscapers. Everyone leaves. Pat and I collapse from a day of intense activity. Later that evening, after washing four dish drains full of dirty dishes, three loads of laundry, an overdue shave for me, and a hot shower for Pat, we discover we're out of milk and go on a scavenger hunt to cough up four bucks to buy some more. Didn't need the cash after all; the corner deli was out of milk. Pat swears he'll never play hookie from work again.