The saga of the leaky gas valve and the “Type A” gas emergency that wasn’t

By | June 29, 2022

We’ve been smelling a faint gas smell in our house for several months. It was sufficiently faint and intermittent that we didn’t feel too much urgency to get it fixed, but my wife finally asked me last week to call the gas company (National Grid) and ask them what to do about it, which I did two days ago.

The National Grid representative went into “gas leak! gas leak! red alert!” mode and informed me that someone would be at our house within an hour to check it out and there had to be someone there to let them or they might have to call the fire or police department to get someone to break down the door. Unfortunately, we were both out of the house at that point, so I called my son and told him to let them in if they showed up. They did, and he tried to, but the inspector said he couldn’t come into the house if there was only a minor there. Fortunately he agreed to wait, and my wife got home ten minutes later.

The National Grid technician determined that the isolation valve behind our gas stove was leaking. Because the valve was broken, the only way to stop the leak was to shut off the gas to the whole house, which he did, leaving us without the use of not only our stove, but also our gas dryer and hot water heater. After turning off the gas, the technician informed us that we just needed to have a licensed plumber come and replace the broken valve, and then they would be able to turn the gas back on. He said no additional inspections would be required. He then left us with this this tag on our stove:

There are four problems here:

  • He marked on the tag that there were hazardous conditions with “house piping” and “appliance” which was simply wrong. The only hazardous condition was in the appliance connection.
  • He marked on the tag that this was a “Type A” hazardous condition, which according to the text on the back of the tag means, “This condition is an immediate hazard. We are required to turn off all gas service and lock the gas meter. We will attempt to avoid complete service turn-off whenever possible.” This, also, was simply wrong. It should have been classified as a Type B condition: “This condition is an immediate hazard. We are required to turn off the gas valve supplying the specific appliance(s) involved. It may not be necessary to shut off the gas mater. Other gas appliances may continue to be used.”
  • Because he designated the situation as Type A, he was required to lock the meter, which he did. By doing that he forced the plumber to apply to the city for a permit and inspection before they would be allowed to turn the gas back on, a process which takes 3-5 days and costs $500.
  • What he told my wife, i.e., that we would just need to have a plumber come replace the valve and turn the gas back on, directly contradicts what is printed on the tag, which says explicitly that the plumber is only allowed to turn the gas back on if the meter wasn’t locked.

Our plumber (from Z Plumberz of Greater Boston) showed up the next morning thinking he would just be doing a quick valve replacement job, because that’s what we told him over the phone, because that’s what the National Grid technician had told us. However, when he saw that the meter was locked and “house piping” was checked off as a hazardous condition, he concluded—correctly—that he needed to (a) pressure-test all of the gas piping to confirm that there were no leaks and (b) apply to the city for a permit and inspection before turning the gas back on, a process which, by the way, takes 3-5 days. He repaired the valve, did the inspection, and charged us $600 for the repair/inspection and $500 for the city’s permit and inspection fee. All told, this was about $800 more than we would have had to pay if the National Grid technician hadn’t incorrectly mismarked the tag, declared a Type A hazard, and locked our meter.

When the plumber left, my wife (who was handling the situation since I was not home) was left with the impression that the permit/inspection would happen later that day, and also that the inspection we were waiting for needed to be done by National Grid, not by the city. I don’t know whether that’s because the plumber misinformed her or she misunderstood, but either way, it’s a good thing, because when we hadn’t heard anything back and it was approaching the end of the day, she asked me to call National Grid and ask them to send somebody out. This I did, and they said they’d send someone the next day.

This second National Grid technician showed up at our house this morning, took a look at our locked gas meter with the plumber’s pressure-testing tool still screwed into the outlet pipe, and said, basically, “wtf?” He said gas valves behind stoves break and need to be replaced all the time, fixing them doesn’t require a city permit or inspection, and there was no reason why the other technician should have locked the meter and declared a Type A hazard. Then he reconnected everything, turned our gas back on, confirmed that there were no leaks, suggested that we file a claim with National Grid over the money we lost because of their error, and went on his way.

I then spoke to a supervisor at the plumbing company and told him that we’d had a second National Grid technician come to the house because we thought that’s what we were supposed to do, and everything was now turned back on. The supervisor informed me that what we had been waiting for was an inspection by the city, not by National Grid, but agreed that it was a good thing we’d misunderstood. He also said they hadn’t yet actually paid the city the $500 permit and inspection fee, so he was going to refund that to us.

I will be filing a claim with National Grid over the $600 the plumber charged us for the unnecessary pipe inspection and pressure test.

UPDATE: I received a reimbursement check from National Grid on August 1, 2022, a bit over a month after I filed a claim with them.

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