The Case of the Gas Pipe Failures at Mountain Condos
Multi-family condominiums are common lodging for Rocky Mountain winter vacationers. Gas and electricity utilities sandwiched into open-spaces, between the parking lot and the condo building are vulnerable to damage from snow removal activities. Huge amounts of snow were pushed from the parking lot by the snowplow into the open-space.
The natural gas regulators for the condos were covered with snow and the pipe threads failed resulting in an explosion and fire.
My forensic assessments determined that the steel pipe threads at the gas regulators were sheared at elbow fittings allowing gas to leak out. The gas accumulated beneath the snow, entered air vents and ignited. The explosion and fire destroyed the condo building.
Pipe thread failures toward the condo building would indicate fault for the snowplowing activity. Pipe thread failures away from the building would indicate fault of the builder
for inadequate gas regulator protection from huge snow loads.
My metallurgical findings determined the pipe thread failures were toward the condo building, in favor of the builder. When pressure was applied to the piping, the failure allowed for leakage resulting in an explosion and the complete condemnation of the structure. Millions of dollars were lost in rental revenues, lawsuits and rebuilding costs.
The Lesson Learned:
Adherence to local building codes must be the determining factor for design, construction and maintenance practices to protect exterior gas regulators. Unexpected deposits of snow can place extreme loads on gas pipe threads and lead to gas leaks.