Many of us may not pay too much attention to the grey box on the outside of the house, and would be just fine if the natural gas meter stopped working for a while this winter. At the end of each month city utilities workers make their rounds to read the 536 active meters in New York Mills. As snow piles up and temperatures drop in the region, the New York Mills Utilities Department reminds residents to keep their natural gas meter units clear of snow and ice. The meter readers ask this primarily for safety reasons but also for better access.
For safety reasons those meters need to remain clear of snow and ice this time of year. One side of the unit houses a diaphragm, which regulates natural gas pressure to appliances in the house or business. On the underside of the unit is a vent, which allows the diaphragm to breath. The diaphragm moves according to how much use is in the house, and as air moves in and out of the vent the diaphragm regulates gas pressure.
"The biggest thing is to keep the vent clear, and keep ice and snow off the meter," says Roger Salo of the utilities department.
The problem is when the vent gets completely iced over and the diaphragm can't work properly. Salo says if this happens then either too much or too little gas is sent through the line into the house.
If too much gas is pushed into the lines then pilot lights for things like the furnace, hot water heater, and cook stove become too high, thus increasing the chance for a fire. If gas pressure into the house is too low problems can also occur. Pilot lights may go due to lack of pressure. Gas seepage may continue and without being burned off by the pilot light may also create health concerns.
Other things to keep in mind, Salo says, is to avoid allowing snow and ice build-up on piping within the meter unit. Too much weight on the pipe can cause bending and possible leaks. He also reminds people to keep the sewer and other vents on your house clear of ice and snow.
Vents for the sewer system are located on the roof, usually above the rooms/facilities they serve. These vents, usually 2- to 3-inch diameter pipes, can freeze shut.
One remedy for sewer vents that repeatedly freeze up is to insulate the vent pipe where it passes through the attic.
Caring for your gas meter in winter
Outdoor natural gas meters and/or pressure regulator sets are designed to withstand extreme weather conditions. But please remember to protect them from ice and snow build-ups during our harsh winter months.
Clean and repair your leaky eaves troughs regularly to prevent ice and melting snow from dripping onto the natural gas meter and/or pressure regulator set causing them to be encased in ice when the weather is cold.
Don't pile snow against your natural gas meter and/or pressure regulator set when shovelling or using a snowblower.
Never allow snow to completely cover your natural gas meter and/or pressure regulator set. Remove soft snow build-up gently, using only a broom or your hand.
Remove any built-up snow by hand until the regulator and shut off valve are clear.
Never kick or hit a meter to break ice or snow build-up.
Don't use a snowplow or blower near your meter.