And then one time I ate some rotten berries. Man, there were some strong gases seepin’ outta my shop that day!
This was a big decision/change I made during my build: to use Gas or Electric heat.
I figured the requirements for heating & cooling for the space before starting any of my permitting or design work, mainly so I could start shopping around for the big ticket items. I was hoping that given enough time, I could scrounge up a heating unit, compressor, air filtration, and exhaust fan “on the cheap”. Given a few months of watching auctions, Craigslist, and various sales, I felt I could find what I wanted and save 50% or more, but it would take a few months.
In the grand scheme of things, the shop went on the back burner almost immediately after I moved, due to my work schedule and a string of family emergencies, so I was in no real hurry. In a backwards way this allowed me to change the design a few times, based on the equipment I was buying. One great example is the heating system.
My original calculations for heating (that I might put into a separate very boring post) set the bare minimum size for a heater at a 25,000 BTUs, but 35k-40k was more desirable. I originally planned on a commercial electric setup, but after crunching numbers and doing a bunch of research, I decided to go Natural Gas.
When I purchased the house it did not have a gas service, everything was electric, but I had researched it with the utility provider before I purchased, and gas was available on the street. It was an easy item to get installed to the house, and one I ultimately wanted, it was just a matter of when to pull the trigger.
After a relatively short time of searching for an electric heating system or maybe a heat pump, I picked up a new Reznor UDAP 60 heater at a Craigslist/Garage Sale for $125. This is one of those once in a lifetime deals that seems too good to be true. New, these go for around $1000. This still had the original packing film on all of it and the shipping caps in place. There was no way I could get the electric heating I needed for a price like that.
This purchase is what made up my mind on getting gas to the house and on into the shop, a year or two ahead of my evil master plan.
Since the work finishing the inside of the shop wasn’t enough to keep me interested/occupied, just what I need, another big project…Yea!
I did this a little out of order due to the weather and my work schedule. I actually got my framing inspection and insulation inspection done, and then installed my gas line. As a result I had to remove a bunch of insulation to get my mechanical RI inspection, and then put the insulation back. No biggie really, it was only a 10’x10 area, but this held up my finish work inside by about 3-4 months (at least that is one of my excuses for not starting the finish work)
After settling on a gas service, the next decision I made (that has been debated on a number of other forums I have been watching ad nauseam) was how, and more importantly who should install it.
I decided to run the underground line to the shop myself. I was planning on installing gas to my house for a new stove, fireplace insert, and a tankless water heater someday, but I do not plan on crawling under the house to install these lines. I will hire a poor schmuck to do that and my back will thank me, and will happily pay $20 lf for the install. Plus a professional plumber can get away with CSST and knows when it can be installed and when you have to hard pipe. I really don’t like the idea of installing hard pipe in a 20” crawlspace and making sure it doesn’t leak. In my city’s jurisdiction, CSST also requires a certification from the manufacturer to be able to install it. Not that an uncertified person couldn’t do it, I just didn’t see the pay off in my time for this part of my master plan for the house.
Now why did I decide to DIY something as dangerous as an underground gas line?
Satisfaction of doing a job myself – 5%
Reason to buy specialty tools – 25%
Someone, somewhere in the World Wide Web, posting you should never do XXX – 15%
General feeling of getting shafted – 55%
I often get the feeling of being shafted in everyday life; usually this revolves around something I have no idea how to do myself: auto repairs, doctors, Girl Scout cookies…with their wee beady eyes and that smug look on their little faces! Ohh you’re gonna buy my cookies aren’t ya, ya tubby punk?
When it comes to major construction, I have a fairly good idea of what something should cost, how long it should take, and feel I know what is reasonable, and what is plain out of line. When I get the same quote from multiple subcontractors, it seems like it is on the up and up (as the saying goes “always get 3 bids”) but this was easily 100%-200% more than I had anticipated and I couldn’t figure out why.
Part of this might have been that I got quotes last fall, right when plumbers are probably booked doing emergency heating repairs, and maybe they think they are justified in charging what they do. But the same would be true of the summer when they are fixing cooling systems, so you got me why it was this expensive.
I was quoted an average $25 per foot for a licensed plumber to supply and install UG line, and what averaged out to $20 per foot for hard piping. Oh…and at $25 per foot, I was still responsible to dig the trench, backfill it, and permitting was additional (the attached quote had a $120 permit pickup charge as well as the permit cost.) In reality they would just drop the pipe in the hole and make (2) connections.
Add to this, that none of the plumbers I contacted would actually hook up any customer provided equipment, if I did not buy the equipment from them. I understand their reluctance. They don’t want to be responsible for a piece of equipment that might be damaged and then have to deal with an irate homeowner arguing that they broke it. Fine, I can make the final connection, but it was a little odd to me.
I have 100 lf of underground and 18 lf hard pipe above ground. I ended up with three bids, all right around $3500 (once you include Tax) and I still had to dig the ditch, hang the heater and install the final pipe. I have attached one of the quotes (and this was not the most expensive or least, but the middle one.)
At first glance this does not seem like it is too unreasonable for specialty polyethylene pipe and fancy anode-less risers. I mean it underground gas pipe sounds expensive to install, right? It requires special tools and training, and in theory, if you make a mistake you could die in a fiery explosion. However the same is true of electrical installations, working on a sewer line in the crawlspace, or climbing up a ladder to clean the gutters, well not the fiery part, but dead is dead.
Unfortunately (for the plumbers) I know how much the poly pipe and risers cost. Something is not right; there must be something major I am missing for it to cost $3000-$3500
If I had been quoted $500 for material (figuring a 25% markup) and 8 hours of labor @ $100 hr I probably would not have questioned it, and would have paid for it with a smile. But Double that?!? Triple?!?
After reading up on it, I decided to tackle this myself. I couldn’t find anything so specialized that I didn’t feel comfortable attempting it. I have read on too many forums to count, all of the horrors of DIY’ing UG gas lines, and how you are putting your life and the lives of everyone in the county in jeopardy, only a licensed plumber can run underground gas line, and you are 10 different kinds of an idiot if you try and DIY gas lines, and so on.
I am now of the opinion that most of the derisive posts I have read on do-it-yourself gas line install, had to have been written by plumbers trying to protect trade secrets, and their bloated estimates. If the price was even remotely reasonable/justifiable I would have hired this out, but when an untrained wood butcher can get it done in less than half a day, and for less than $500 in parts…I have a hard time just throwing away an additional $2500+ for the convenience.
I am also not buying in bulk for material. Most plumbers get substantial discounts from distributors due to their volume of purchases, and buying a 500’ long roll vs a 150’ saves them money as well. For a onetime cash purchase, it is just straight retail price for me. I could have had a slightly lower parts cost (I ordered 150 lf of pipe instead of 100’, in case I had problems with the chamfer tool or who knows what.) To my surprise-delight the anodeless risers that I purchased came with couplings attached from the factory on one end. That meant I only had to make 1/2 of a connection at each end of the run, easier and easier.
I had never installed underground gas before, so this was something new to me. I have watched it being installed on a commercial scale many times at work (though much larger lines, 2” up to 8”). It turns out; it really was not difficult at all. The toughest part for most people is finding someplace that will sell the piping to anyone other than a plumbing contractor. You can buy everything online (Zoro Tools & industrial Supply actually has all the parts and pieces and good prices, but don’t expect any technical help or questions answered). I ended up buying from a local distributor, and got some advice when I picked it up. Plus I saved on shipping, since everything was in stock. This is definitely a step beyond what the box stores in my area carry.
One major manufacturers of the pipe and fitting is Continental Industrial. The greatest improvement for the DIY’er installing gas lines is the CON-STAB couplers for underground pipe. It is almost as simple as Shark-Bite fittings with PEX. Actually it is as simple. There is only one added step of chamfering the end of a tube correctly, but as with everything, there is tool Continental makes to do the job.
3/4” chamfer tool (not from Zoro)
You put the tool in the end of the pipe, give it a 360° twist or two, and voila a perfect chamfer.
Continental Industries install video
Also I am not hillbilly-ing this install, or cutting any corners. I pulled a Mechanical permit ($68), have had inspections on RI, pressure testing, and backfilling, and I know there are no leaks and it is all done to code. Btw when I first pressure tested the line, I did have a leak, but it was at the meter, not with any of the UG connections. I actually pressurized the line and let it sit for 3 weeks before I could schedule my inspection, so I have a good feeling about the whole install.
My cost from the meter to the new gas heater:
Applying for and picking up a mechanical permit $68 (and 30 minutes of my life standing at the permit counter)
Underground gas piping parts and the magic chamfer tool $318 (This is what I was quoted $2440 for a professional to do.)
(18’) of Black iron pipe and fittings $75 (per the quote, this would be their minimum charge of $520 for 0’ up to 25’) The local box store cut and threaded the long pipes for free.
Material & Permit Cost $461(includes tax and permit fee) for the whole job.
Estimate from multiple plumbers for the same scope $3,503.66 (includes tax, permit fee and picking up the permit)
I cannot explain this at all. When I asked one of them (after picking myself up off the floor while reading their estimate) “This seems a little on the high side for one day’s worth of work” I was told that this is what they have been charging for the past couple of years.
I suppose if you are doing this under the table and not having it permitted, inspected, or know the local codes, then yes, the odds of someone taking a shortcut is high, or more likely installing something incorrectly and never knowing it. Even if you buy the Mechanical and Fire Gas code books, and can read through them without falling asleep, they are not an easy read and very confusing. Of course it is easier to just hire a professional. They know the local codes and it is second nature to them. Knowledge is worth something, in the case of gas lines about $3000…
Armed with the miracles of modern science at my fingertips (Youtube being chief among these, along with installation videos from the manufacturer) the design Continental Industries came up with for underground pipe and fittings is very straight forward. I decided it was not beyond my ability. And if I did blow up the whole damn thing, only my life would be lost, probably…
It took me literally 30 minutes of work to do the entire poly pipe install with the risers, and that included reading the instructions on the chamfer tool, practicing on a couple pieces of scrap pipe, and watching a 3 minute youtube video. The hard pipe install was around 2-3 hours split between the meter and the shop, and chasing down the leak after my first pressure test.
What was not included in anyone’s bid and what I had to do regardless of DIY or subcontracting was the ditch. Renting a trencher for 1/2 day was $180. Due to “a series of unfortunate events” I ended up hand digging 75% of the trench. A trencher is not good at negotiating tight conditions and ended up hitting my house twice when I caught a piece of debris. Once I got into the “open” between the house and the shop, I ran into a yard full of garbage buried 8”-12” down.
I also went stupidly deep. My gas line is around 30” deep. Part of the reason is that the anodeless risers I bought were commercial grade, typically used in a 36” deep trench. I did not think about this when I ordered the parts, and just asked for (2) “standard” 3/4” risers. Come to find out you can order these with anything from a 12” rise on up. The other part was I kept running into garbage and debris buried in my yard, and had to get under that for solid bedding.
I found a light fixture, sheets of old expanded metal (that bound up the trencher to no end), ¼” thick plate steel, enough buried asphalt shingles to reroof my garage, and a mountain of old brick and chimney liner from the original construction back in 19 aught 4, that was buried along the entire length of the house, down about 8”
Well no worries about accidentally hitting the gas line when I put in a sprinkler system I guess. I spent 4 weekends hand digging and hauling garbage to the dump. That is a month of my life I will never get back.
I also put in (2) vertical pieces of 4” PVC I had laying around at the (2) major bends in the pipe. I filled these with sand and when I final grade the yard, I plan on marking these spots with a concrete marker. I did install tracer line with the pipe (which is a code requirement), so I don’t know why I did this, but I did.
As a side note, and because it is painfully funny to me now that the Mariana Trench is backfilled; the code that my City follows is the 2012 International Fire Code (IFC), along with the 2012 Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC). Per the Code Books, installing underground gas lines, lists a minimum of 18” cover, and “where external damage to piping is not likely to result” (like going through the back yard and next to the house)…12” minimum cover…
Inside the shop I hung the unit from the ceiling joists with a couple pieces of Unistrut and 3/8” all-thread. The Reznor came with (4) threaded inserts in the top specifically for this application, and (2) spots for eyelets, so it was very simple.
Inside the shop I made a decision that I really did not want to go through the roof for the vent. Part of this was I didn’t want to climb on the roof, but more importantly I did not want to deal with sealing a roof penetration on an old metal roof, I don’t have any leaks now so why push it? I instead went horizontally out the back wall.
Per the install instructions on the heater, it allows for up to 6’ horizontal exhaust. This is all type B Vent pipe. All of the fittings, thimble, and vent cap were available at the box store, cheap. I might be into this $35 for 5’ of vent. I did not see a reason to turn and go vertical outside, but I have not had my final mechanical inspection so it might come up.
Since I am going through insulation, I decided to pony up and upgrade my insulation at the vent (and below it, but that is another post). I bought a couple bags of Roxul AFB (Acoustical Fire Batt) which serves a dual purpose, fire protection and acoustical dampening. On the other side of this wall I plan on building a dog house for my compressor and dust collector some day, so I am sound proofing a bit now.
Now that I am finally working on the interior finishes, and the vent installed, I should be able to call for my final mechanical inspection, and then I can have the gas company turned on the juice.
If I can get my interior wall finishes installed, then I can trim out my electrical (I just need to install cover plates), and I can call for all three final inspections on the same day.
-- Jeff ~ Tacoma Wa.