CSST Flexible Tubing Tied to Ohio FiresDec 28, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP
A recent outbreak of lightning-related fires in central Ohio has renewed a call to place stricter regulations on the use of Corrugate Stainless Steel Tubing (CSST) as residential natural gas piping.
Four fires in central Ohio during a one-day period raised the eyebrows of several local safety officials who blame CSST flexible tubing for the incidents.
CSST, according to a Washington Post report, has been implicated in house fires in at least a dozen states in recent years but it’s unsure whether the product itself is unsafe or whether it was installed improperly, thereby leading to unnecessary hazards.
Homeowners impacted by these incidents have continued to file lawsuits against the manufacturers and installers of CSST, attempting to hold them accountable for millions of dollars in property damage. The same report notes a 2006 settlement worth as much as $29 million struck between homeowners who suffered varying levels of property damage and the manufacturers of CSST.
The surviving members of a South Dakota family are still awaiting resolution on their lawsuit which claims a 2008 fire that killed four members of their family was the result of fault CSST.
CSST is an alternative to rigid metal piping used to move natural gas to different points in a home. It was thought to be a safer alternative to the traditional rigid piping because it required using less joints in the pipe’s path, lowering the risk of gas leaks which could prompt an explosion or fire. The revolutionary product was used primarily in Japan where it reduced the risk of gas explosions and fires during severe earthquakes, when rigid piping was more likely to fracture and leak gas.
Despite it carrying a heftier price tag than traditional rigid piping, CSST has become commonplace in new American homes, or homes retro-fit with natural gas lines. Its flexible nature allows for a quicker installation but as its use increases, so do the questions about its safety.
In the recent string of Ohio fires, a local Fire Chief believes CSST was at least partially to blame for the incidents. According to the report at WaPo.com, Genoa Township Chief Gary Honeycutt said, “lightning struck at or near the homes and the electrical charge traveled along the CSST before jumping to a less resistant pathway nearby such as a metal ventilation duct.” The moving charge then punctured a small hole in the flexible gas tubing, but large enough to create a gas leak. Once lighting struck again, it ignited.
Though it’s become ubiquitous in newer homes outfitted for natural gas, many believe CSST is an unproven product in terms of safety. Some local municipalities have enacted building codes which require CSST be away from other conducting building materials in a home’s infrastructure and at least one manufacturer of the product has recently changed its design to make it less likely to leak or cause fire, indicating it may not have been as safe as it could have been. Washington Post reports Omega Flex, based in eastern Pennsylvania, has begun wrapping its line of CSST in a plastic covering to make it “more resistant to lightning strike damage.” The head of a homebuilder’s advocacy group in Ohio said he believes CSST is safe when installed properly and grounded.