No Gas Shut-Off Valve Yet? The Clock’s Ticking
Time is running out for thousands of Los Angeles homeowners to comply with a city ordinance that requires that they equip their homes with automatic gas shut-off valves to prevent fires from erupting during or after an earthquake.
The ordinance calls for all buildings, including single-family homes, that contain gas piping in the city of Los Angeles to be equipped with a gas shut-off valve either within one year of the close of escrow or, in the case of new buildings, at the time of construction.
For the record:
12:00 a.m. May 9, 1999 Clarification
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 9, 1999 Home Edition Real Estate Part K Page 3 Real Estate Desk 2 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
The graphic that accompanied “No Gas Shut-Off Valve Yet? The Clock’s Ticking” (May 2) reported that Seismic Safety Products offers two options to consumers. Buyers may purchase a shut-off valve from the company for $99 or they may purchase a valve and have it installed for $199.
The law also applies to remodels of $10,000 or more.
So far, however, officials with the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety estimate that owners of more than 22,000 residential and commercial buildings have yet to comply with the ordinance since it took effect Feb. 5, 1998.
Building and safety officials are getting ready to send thousands of notices to property owners informing them that they are closing in on the one-year deadline or have passed it.
Officials estimate that more than 3,000 residences and commercial buildings have missed the deadline and are out of compliance.
“If somebody is overdue by a month or two, we’ll work with them. . . . Our focus is to be customer friendly,” said Andrew A. Adelman, general manager of the Department of Building and Safety. “Our goal is to achieve compliance.”
Adelman said his agency wants to avoid imposing penalty fees, which range from $90 per unit at apartment buildings or condominiums to $100 on a single-family dwelling and up to $10,000 for a commercial building.
Condominiums are particularly confusing because the sale of one unit triggers the ordinance for the entire building. The condominium stipulation is necessary, according to city officials, because condos are generally not hooked up to the same gas meter, thus a change to one unit would not protect the whole building.
City officials have suggested that condominium associations opt to install one valve on a master gas pipe that serves all units.
Home buyers usually learn about the seismic valve ordinance when they sign what is referred to as the 9a form during the purchase process. But some observers question whether the ordinance is being adequately brought to their attention during and after a sale.
“I think somewhere along the line the ball has been dropped as far as getting information out to the homeowners,” said one observer.
Bud Mauro, immediate past president of the Southland Regional Assn. of Realtors, said he believes home buyers are given adequate notice of the ordinance.
“When we meet with buyers, we give them that information at the start of the transaction,” said Mauro, a Realtor with Paramount Properties in Porter Ranch. “I’ve had several buyers that went ahead and had them installed.”
The association, which represents the San Fernando Valley area, also sponsored a public forum on the ordinance shortly after it was enacted last year.
It typically costs from $200 to $360 for a homeowner to purchase a valve and have it installed. There are eight valves certified for installation by the city.
“I tell customers to call all eight companies because there are different engineering theories behind them and a range of prices,” said Linda Tombrello, a customer service representative for the Gas Co.
The various valves have features ranging from special sensors to little windows that allow homeowners to tell if the valve is open or closed. And some valves are made from different types of metal.
The Gas Co. will in most cases install a pre-purchased valve for $81.50. Homeowners may also hire a certified plumber or contractor to perform the work.
A number of valve manufacturers offer package deals, which include the valve and installation for a set price.
Valves installed on service piping by the Gas Co. or contractors certified by the company do not require a $43.40 permit, which applies in cases when valves are installed on customer piping. (The latter variety of piping falls under the city’s jurisdiction for inspection, hence the permit fee.)
Installation prices may also escalate, for example, if a home’s gas meter is in an underground vault or if the piping is badly corroded, experts warn.
Potential complications aside, shut-off valves have won endorsements from seismic experts because of their ability to cut off gas flow in pipes during the kind of violent shaking that occurs in a magnitude 5 or greater earthquake.
About half of the 51 gas-related fires after the Northridge earthquake would have been prevented by the valves.
“One of the dangers of an earthquake is that it can cause gas piping to break, lead to leakage of gas and cause an explosion or fire in a building at the very time when emergency response resources are most strained,” Adelman said.
In the wake of the devastating fires that swept through Kobe, Japan, after the earthquake in 1995, L.A. City Councilman Hal Bernson sponsored a measure requiring installation of shut-off valves in all newly built structures and apartment and commercial remodels of $10,000 or more.
But because of the ordinance missed 95% of the city’s buildings, the ordinance was altered in 1998 to include sales and residential remodels of $10,000 or more, increasing the scope of the ordinance from 4,500 buildings a year to 32,500.
Consequently, city officials are mulling over a proposal to provide the Department of Building and Safety with funding for five inspectors to enforce the ordinance.
To reach the Building and Safety Department’s customer call center, phone (888) 524-2845, Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m.
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Where to Find Approved Valves The following valve manufacturers are approved by the Los Angeles Mechanical Test Lab for use within the city. The Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety does not endorse or recommend a particular manufacturer.
Name: Safe T Quake Corp., https://www.stq.com
Phone Number*: (800) 833-5353
Price Estimates: $200 to $250
Name: Pacific Seismic Product Inc. , https://www.strandearthquake.com
Phone Number*: (800) 978-7263
Price Estimates: $250
Phone Number*: (800) 481-3114
Price Estimates: $199
Name: Seismic Safety Products, https://www.northridgevalve.com
Phone Number*: (800) 927-9594
Price Estimates: $199 or $125, valve only
Name: Vanguard Valves Inc.
Phone Number*: (800) 718-7467
Price Estimates: $155, valve only
Name: Quake Defense Inc., https://www.quakedefense.com
Phone Number*: (800) 969-1906
Price Estimates: $295, valve only
Name: Trembler-Tech Inc.
Phone Number*: (800) 826-1682
Price Estimates: $120, valve only
Name: Seismic Valve Co. Inc., https://www.seismicvalve.com
Phone Number*: (714) 754-1052
Price Estimates: $395, valve only
*Phone numbers are for manufacturers or distributors. Also, price estimates for single-family homes include valve and installation unless otherwise noted.
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How the Values Work
Cross-section shows how one common type of valve blocks the flow of gas during an earthquake.