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CONSTRUCTION KNOWLEDGE BLOG

February 11, 2011

Old Pipes and Big Problems
Filed under: Plumbing — Tags: — nedpelger

Yesterday at a job meeting, the facility director showed a 2″ water valve with considerable corrosion. Being able to see the valve, inside and out, made it easy to see the corroded threads and the imminent failure of the valve (see the V groove in the left threads). What amazed me, though, was that our plumber was able to determine that the valve may soon leak, just by looking closely at the threads.

The plumber recommended he change the valve while he was working nearby. The facility director agreed and prevented a major water damage problem from that valve snapping at some time in the near future. The water system was only installed 20 years ago.

This morning I read that Allentown, PA had a 93 year old 12″ cast iron gas main explode, killing 5 people and damaging 47 homes. The AP noted that┬áDorothy Yanett, 65, was in her living room with her husband awaiting the evening news when she heard a series of booms.

“Everything falling and crashing, glass, just a nightmare,” she said. She found glass in the shoes she was going to put on to leave the house. “There was no odor, there was no smell. Then it was like all hell broke loose.”

The fascinating part of the tragedy is that UGI (the gas utility) had just leak tested that section of piping four days ago. There were no leaks. ┬áBut when the fire department tried to extinguish the blaze, they struggled with the 12″ gas main feeding the flames like a huge Bunsen Burner. Due to a lack of valves in the old line, the fire fighters were unable to put out the blaze until workers dug to the pipe and foamed it closed. The aftermath is shown below:

Think about America’s 2.5 million miles of gas and liquid piping, much of it installed many decades ago. Along with the rest of our aging infrastructure, the underground piping will soon need lots of repair work. While a huge cost for our society, it will also be an opportunity for those in construction, especially for those who figure better ways to solve the problems.