Restoration Guide: Fuel Supply Systems
Editor's Note: This is article 14 of 16 in Chapter 8: The HVAC/Plumbing Guide of Old House Web's Home Restoration Guide. This guide was developed and edited for old homes from original materials in the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Rehab guide.
14. FUEL SUPPLY SYSTEMS
Electricity as a sole source of fuel for your old house can be a costly proposition, especially if you have a large family or live in a part of the country with higher than normal heating needs. The three most common types of fuel systems used in lieu of electricity are natural gas, propane, and fuel oil.
This article takes a look at the fuel supply systems you might find in your old house while remodeling and offers suggestions for inspecting and rehabbing those systems during your home restoration. The section also offers options for installing new fuel supply systems in your old house.
Section 1--Fuel Supply Systems and Old House Restorations and Inspections
Your old house already has some sort of fuel supply system if it uses natural gas, propane, or fuel oil to power any of the home's appliances, you may even discover that it has more than one fuel supply system. Existing fuel supply systems should be thoroughly inspected while remodeling your old house. Inspection of the system should become a priority if you notice fuel odors, leaks, or what appears to be corrosion on the supply piping. Problems with fuel supply systems can be very hazardous.
Natural gas is supplied to a home by a utility company, and enters the home in a single gas line. That gas line should terminate into a manifold located in an easily accessible area of the home, such as a basement or closet. Individual gas lines travel from the manifold to the appliances using gas in your old house, such as a furnace, range, or hot water heater. There should be a way to cut off the gas main, and there are normally cutoffs on each appliance line at the appliance. Natural gas leaks are usually detected by odor, but all piping should still be inspected while remodeling. It is also a good idea to have a professional take some calculations concerning the amount of natural gas supplied to the home, the number of appliances requiring the fuel, and how much they need to operate properly.
Propane and fuel oil are usually delivered to the home by a delivery truck, and require a storage tank on the property. The propane company typically supplies the storage tank and runs the supply line into the home. Tanks can be located above or below grade, and should be positioned a safe distance from the home based on local codes.
Fuel oil tanks are usually owned by the homeowner, and as such don't receive the regular inspections that propane storage tanks usually have. When you first purchase your old house, you should have the fuel oil company inspect the storage tank for corrosion and leaks, which can cause environmental issues. Fuel oil tanks can be located indoors or outdoors, but indoor tanks require proper venting. While inspecting the fuel supply system, make sure the vent is not blocked.
Section 2--Replacing and Installing Fuel Supply Systems
All fuel supply systems should meet local code, even if they were installed long before codes existed. Fuel is combustible, and a system with an incorrect installation or defect could have the potential of becoming a fire or explosion hazard. If you are replacing or installing a new fuel supply system, the following types of piping are commonly used.
2.1: Steel Pipe and Fittings
Steel and cast iron pipe has been used for home fuel supply systems for many years. It is strong and resistant to puncture from the errant nail or screw, which makes it very good for use with natural gas. Steel pipe with threaded ends is most common, but welded joints are also acceptable. Steel is approved for use in fuel systems by most plumbing codes. One downside to steel pipe is that it can be difficult to modify, but depending on the scope of your home restoration, that may not be an issue.
2.2: Copper Pipe and Fittings
Copper pipe is normally used for fuel oil and propane fuel supply systems in homes. It is allowed for use with natural gas by some codes, but it must be painted yellow so it isn't confused with water piping, and it must be classified for use with gas. It is lightweight and easy to work with, but nail plates should be used to prevent accidental puncture.
2.3: Corrugated Stainless Steel Tubing (CSST)
CSST is a fairly new product, but it is approved by most codes for use with natural gas and propane. CSST is lightweight, flexible, and easy to install, but installers should have training before attempting to use it for a fuel supply system. CSST also needs nailplates to prevent accidental puncture.
Jeffrey Anderson has a Degree in English from V.M.I. and served as an officer in the Marine Corps. He worked in Residential and Commercial construction management for 25 years before retiring to write full time.