Sunday, November 11, 2007

Preparedness Tool Box Talk - Public Utility Shutoffs

Okay, another simple tip here....water lines and gas lines to your home (if you own a home or live in one) in most parts of the country are underground. The shutoffs to these lines are usually located underground and adjacent the roadway as well.

That being the case for many, you can reduce your chances of your house being flooded or filled with gas doing some advance preparation. Instead of waiting for the water utility person (on call) in your area to show up when your incoming line is broken or your internal water shutoffs don't work to contain a leaking water pipe, get to know where the external shut offs are located.

Mark them as would the underground utility locator would (picture) with the APWA Uniform Color Code colors. Learn to recognize what they stand for. That will help the utility folks find them if they get there before you do! Also note that if your shutoff is located with your meter outside your home at the foundation or on your front lawn....get yourself a wrench that specifically fits over the shutoff valve. Teach your family where it is and how to use it. Locate the wrench prominently in a place marked to contain emergency equipment (there's that ICE idea again...). Paint the valve using the appropriate color code above.

Your utility company might stop out free if you request them to "work" the valve by closing it off and on a few times if you haven't done this in recent memory. That way if you have to do in an emergency it will work and it will lessen the chance of you forcing the valve and breaking it - making your problem worse. You can work it yourself periodically to make sure it works easy when needed.

The underground gas shutoff is fairly easy to access. If you improved your landscaping and covered the shut off...find it and mark the location...the valve itself is down in a small shaftway and it might be covered with dirt and debris...use a flashlight as the shut off is reflective. If you can't see it then you need to clean out the access to the valve....don't think it is going to be easy to fix when there is an emergency and maybe your house is going up in flames. A strong vacuuming may just do the trick.

Building a shroud around the shut off if it is below grade may be in order....some PVC with a cap and colored yellow would work...keep it below the lawnmower blade or you will have created an unsafe condition.

Underground water valve wrenches can be obtained at plumbing or hardware supply stores or even Lowe's. Gas shut off's for underground may have to be crafted from a water shutoff because no one want to sell you an underground shutoff. Certainly not the utility as they are afraid you would turn the gas back on after you failed to pay.....

If you have a propane tank outside make sure everyone at your home knows how to shut off the valve and any heaters you have that vaporize the fuel. Some folks use reclaimed water in their neighborhoods....find out more about where they are located and how they are used.
If you have sewer lines in your area that rely on pumps to move the effluent....ask what would happen if those pumps failed for a long period of time...maybe it will be a localized overflow or a major to know ahead of time for a variety of good reasons. Crews with generators that show up at sewer pump stations or manholes when the power goes out would indicate an important (and maybe large) conduit for sewage is traveling nearby.

Both tools might cost about $10 although I got one for 99 cents on clearance. Get your measure out and see if you have the correctly sized tool. Yeh, it could be a pain, but so would shoveling up or sopping up all your burnt belongings....

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