Home Improvement Disasters Involving Gas and Electricity

Opportunity and danger are two sides of the same coin. Home improvement projects offer the opportunity to enjoy your home and to increase its value. Such projects; however, present the danger of personal injury, property damage, and unexpected expense if the work contains construction defects. Here are some steps you should take to maximize the opportunity and minimize the danger of home improvement projects. This article addresses common construction defects in exterior projects involving gas pipes and electrical wires. Related articles cover other construction defects.

1. Do your homework. People research many major purchases; but they spend thousands of dollars on home improvements with little or no research about avoiding construction defects or about hiring a qualified and reliable contractor. Information that can help homeowners is available from many sources. Books explain basic construction and building code concepts in plain language. Manufacturer’s installation instructions for many products are available on the internet. This does not mean that you need to become a construction expert before you embark on a home improvement project. You can and should; however, become educated so that you can recognize common construction defects. Being able to recognize construction defects puts the contractor on notice that you are an informed consumer.

2. Use only licensed and experienced contractors. Verify the status of the contractor’s license and whether any complaints have been filed against the contractor. Complaints against a contractor are not always a deal killer, but they are a red flag that requires more investigation. Obtain references from the contractor and contact them. Use at least one reference from a project completed over one year ago to help you determine the contractor’s response to warranty issues.

3. Obtain a building permit, if required. A building permit is usually required if new electrical circuits, water pipes, or gas pipes are installed or if there are significant additions or changes to any of these systems. A permit is usually required when adding to or making structural changes to a building. A permit is an inexpensive way to get inspections of the work by a qualified third party. It may also reduce your potential liability if a problem occurs. The contractor should obtain the permit. If the contractor is reluctant to obtain a permit, this is a red flag. The contractor may not be licensed to do the work, or he may have other problems that you may want to know about.

4. Look for common construction defects. Here are some examples of common construction defects in exterior home improvement projects.

Failure to bury gas pipes and electrical wires at required depth. Digging around buried gas pipes and electrical wires can damage them and cause gas leaks and electrical shocks. Bury most gas pipes at least twelve inches below the finished dirt level. Bury electrical wires at least twelve inches if the wires are ground fault circuit protected. Bury wires enclosed in metal conduit at least six inches. Bury most other electrical wires at least eighteen inches.

Failure to place electrical receptacles on a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) circuit when required. This is an electrical shock hazard. Place all exterior receptacles and all receptacles in garages on a GFCI protected circuit.

Failure to properly install and protect electrical wires. This is an electrical shock hazard if the wires become loose or damaged. Place most exposed and accessible electrical wires in approved conduit. Place electrical connections and wire splices in a covered electrical junction box. Electrical wires that are installed outdoors or that are buried must be approved for these uses.

Failure to protect gas pipes from corrosion. Corroded gas pipes can leak. Protect gas pipes against corrosion when they are in contact with the ground and when they are in contact with masonry and concrete. The gray paint on gas pipes around gas meters and pipe wrap tape are common corrosion protection methods.

Failure to properly install gas appliance flexible connectors. This is a gas leak hazard. Flexible connectors are the yellow (one common color) flexible tubes that you see between the rigid gas pipe and a gas water heater. These connectors are intended to connect one rigid gas pipe to one gas appliance. You should be able to move the connector at least two inches at the center of the connector. A connector that cannot be moved and is too tight strains gas connections at the pipe and at the appliance. The connector should not have a bend with a radius smaller than 1 ½ inches. A tight radius bend can weaken the connector and reduce gas flow.

Seize the opportunity to beautify and improve your home; but be aware of the dangers that such projects present and empower yourself to avoid these dangers.