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A Gas Leak Leaves an Upper West Side Co-op Feeling Lucky

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on January 30, 2019

Upper West Side, Manhattan

Gas Leak
Jan. 30, 2019

In this jittery city, where memories of deadly gas explosions are still fresh, even a minor gas leak can become a co-op or condo board’s worst nightmare. With sensitivity so high and rules so tight, the smell of gas can spell disaster. 

That’s why the nine-member board at a 110-unit co-op on the Upper West Side considers itself lucky – relatively speaking. Last October, a shareholder detected the dreaded smell of gas in the 15-story pre-war building. Con Ed was called, and things immediately got complicated. 

“They couldn’t find the leak quickly,” says Jesse Berger, an associate real estate broker who has lived in the building since the 1990s. “They smelled gas on two other floors, so they shut the gas down.” The building had been "red-tagged." 

Each of the 110 apartments has its own gas riser, and about two dozen of them failed the required pressure test, which puts three pounds of pressure on lines that withstand a quarter of a pound during normal use. In older buildings, these extreme pressure tests usually cause multiple failures – and lead to complicated and costly repairs. 

“In about half of our units with failures, the problem was the flexible line behind the stove,” Berger says. “That’s nice. But the rest involved going into the walls and finding the leaks.” 

So far, not so bad. Next came a problem that could have been disastrous if the board hadn’t made some smart decisions. Each apartment has a gas meter, and testing revealed that the valves that connect the meters to the gas main all needed to be replaced or repaired – a job that would have added tens of thousands dollars to the project’s cost and extended it up to six months longer. 

“It was decided we would go with a master building gas meter and people would no longer be billed individually by Con Ed,” Berger says, adding that the board decided to pro-rate each unit’s gas bill, as they currently do with water and heat bills. (Each unit has its own electricity meter.) “We saved a whole bunch of money,” Berger says, “and even more importantly, we saved a whole bunch of time.” 

There was more good news. Last year the board switched the boiler to dual fuel – so it could burn No. 2 oil or natural gas – and when the gas was shut down, the boiler was switched to oil, and the heat and hot water stayed on. Since a separate gas line runs to the boiler, Con Ed soon approved a return to burning cheaper natural gas. Meanwhile, the board decided that shareholders who relocated appliances during apartment renovations – and then failed the pressure tests – would be responsible bringing their reconfigured gas lines into compliance with Con Ed standards. 

Workers are now in the painstaking process of locating leaks in a line that runs from the basement to the top floor, while other workers are reconfiguring pipes in the basement to connect with the single master meter. When the job is complete, Berger estimated the cost will be between $200,000 and $250,000, which will probably be drawn from the reserve fund and/or an assessment. That stings, yet Berger and his fellow shareholders prefer to look at the bright side. 

“Because of the recent explosions in this city, everyone’s chary about gas leaks,” Berger says. “Con Ed is more ambitious about shutting down the gas because it gives them the chance to inspect buildings and get them in better shape. Nobody’s going to do this work until they have to. Our board jumped on this right away, and they’re doing it right. We should be finished by March or April. We think we’re lucky.” 

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – PLUMBING CONTRACTOR: Effective Plumbing. PROPERTY MANAGER: Hoffman Management.

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