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Your Gas Heating Equipment: You May Have a Tiger By the Tail

If you grew up with natural gas heating, you probably never considered potential hazards of explosions or fire.

Read from AP News: Apparent gas leak explosion rips apart dorm

How common are natural gas explosions? Google “natural gas explosions 2017” to get up to date on such events in the first six months of this year.

Methane, CH4, is a widely used fuel for heating, cooking, powering engines in motor vehicles and electrical power generators. It is odorless and tasteless. Likewise, propane (LPG) used in areas not served by natural gas pipelines. On those occasions when you may have smelled a leak, it wasn’t the actual methane or propane gas that tipped off your olfactory senses, but a chemical added to the gas.

With all the above said, those persons responsible for the safe and effective operation of commercial buildings should be held accountable on the issue of preventive maintenance of combustion equipment.

Unlike electrically-powered heating and cooking equipment, natural gas furnaces, boilers feature complex combustion control equipment to prevent life-threatening events like the gas explosion in the above-named university dorm. Use of gas-fired heating equipment typically involves a number of sensors to assure that tiger-by-the-tail stays in his cage. One commonly used name for combustion control equipment is “FLAME SAFEGUARD”. The word safeguard means “something that serves as a protection or defense or that ensures safety”.

Without dragging this discussion into the weeds, the point of all this is to say at least annual inspections by combustion-control specialists is a must. Commercially available combustible gas detectors are also available to alert responsible persons of an imminent danger.

If you wish to test your gas-fired heating equipment, don’t call Rockwall Controls. We do not service such items. This is the usual and customary purview of mechanical service companies.

Basic facts about your combustion control equipment should be known before calling in a technician.

  • What is the fuel? Natural gas, propane, oil?
  • What is the configuration of your ignition equipment? Pilot flame, electric spark ignition, hot-surface igniter?

To emphasize the vital importance of the technician’s qualifications, allow me this real-life example of a homeowner whom I know. The homeowner purchased a large home out in a semi-rural area of Rockwall County. Propane is the fuel.

He purchased a home-owner warranty (HOW) to cover unexpected breakdowns. So it was when his gas-fired furnaces were malfunctioning, he called the number for service.

The problem was simply this: the furnace would attempt to ignite, but it would almost immediately shut down. The technician tried a number of things, replacing this or that components, but the problem persisted. After calling a regular HVAC company to look at the problem, he learned his furnace was configured with orifices used for natural gas (methane), but his house was supplied with propane that requires a much smaller orifice.

All mechanical service companies are not the same. Check references. Ask questions.

If you follow the above sensible advice, your property will most likely stay warm next winter.

John White
Rockwall Controls Company, Inc.
972) 771-3514