Natural Gas Meters and Regulators

By Gregory Havel

Although firefighters do not service or install natural gas meters, piping, and regulators, they need an understanding of how these devices work so that they can work more safely.

Photo 1 shows the natural gas meter and regulators located at a school. This setup is typical of small commercial meters and regulators, although there will be some variation in appearance and operating pressures between areas supplied by different gas companies. There may also be some variation between areas requiring compliance with NFPA 54, National Fuel Gas Code, 2012 edition (ASTM Z223.1—2012), and areas requiring compliance with other standards.

In Photo 1, the gas from the gas main enters the meter and regulators at the “service valve” at a pressure of 50 to 75 pounds per square inch (psi) (3.515-5.273 kg/cm2) or higher. This is the valve that is most important to close if we are ordered to shut off the gas to the building. This valve has a ring cast onto the side of its body and the square or rectangular head on the valve has a tab with a matching ring. When the ring on the head is in line with the pipe, the valve is open. A quarter turn of the head of the valve will close the valve; line up the ring on the head with the ring on the body so that a lock or seal can be applied to prevent the valve from being opened.

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After the gas passes through the service valve, it passes through the first “regulator” (at the left in photo 1), where its pressure is reduced to 25-30 psi (1.758-2.109 kg/cm2) for metering. The pipe entering the regulator is smaller than the pipe leaving the regulator to compensate for the pressure reduction in the regulator. (Natural gas is distributed in gas mains at high pressures in relatively small pipes and are reduced in pressure at regulators at gas meters with an increase in pipe size so that the same amount of heat energy will be available; pressure is reduced again inside the building to the pressure needed by each appliance.) Then, it passes through the strainer (S), which remove any particles or condensed moisture to protect the mechanism in the gas meter.

The gas passes down through the first meter valve (MV)—which is normally open—and through the gas meter, where its volume is measured so that the customer can be billed accurately. The gas passes through the second MV (which is also normally open) and up and to the right to the second regulator, where the gas pressure is reduced to no more than 5 psi (0.352 kg/cm2) for safe distribution inside the building.

The bypass valve (BV) is normally closed and locked. This valve is installed in larger gas meter sets so that the meter can be serviced or replaced without shutting off the gas to the building. When servicing or replacing the meter, the gas company technician will unlock and open the BV, close both meter valves, service or replace the meter, open the meter valves and close the BV, check for leaks, and lock the BV.

Piping to the service valve may be plastic while it is underground. The piping connecting the valves, regulators, and gas meter is usually steel, as is the pipe through the wall from the meter and regulators into the building. Steel is used because strength is needed to support the weight of the equipment and to resist the pressure of the gas inside the pipe. Once the pipe is inside the building, it may be steel, corrugated stainless-steel tube (CSST), or another material permitted by the codes and authority having jurisdiction that is resistant to any corrosive impurities in the natural gas in the area.

For more information on the use of CSST, see “Construction Concerns” dated May 13, 2009, or click HERE.

The white piping shown in Photo 1 is PVC plastic and is connected to the regulator vents. Regulators have vent connections to the atmospheric side of their diaphragms so there will be no back pressure generated; the amount of gas flowing changes the position of the diaphragm so that any gas leaks around or through the diaphragm are carried away from the area of the regulator. These vent pipes extend away from the regulators to a location that is a specified distance from the ground; windows; entrances; and heating, venting, and air-conditioning vents (photo 2).

PHOTO 2.

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Larger regulators inside the building also need vent piping. The white plastic pipe that runs from the far right in photo 1 to the left in photo 2 is connected to the regulator for the boilers in the school basement. This pipe is steel inside the building and through the exterior wall. Plastic regulator vent piping is not permitted inside buildings by NFPA 54.

Under the conditions specified in NFPA 54, two or more regulators can share a vent pipe, as shown in the two photos.

For detailed information on these requirements, see NFPA 54 National Fuel Gas Code, 2012 edition, Chapter 5:

  • Piping: Sections 5 and 6
  • Meters: Section 7
  • Regulators: Section 8
  • Regulator vents: Section 9

Download this article as a PDF HERE.

 

Gregory Havel is a member of the Town of Burlington (WI) Fire Department; retired deputy chief and training officer; and a 30-year veteran of the fire service. He is a Wisconsin-certified fire instructor II, fire officer II, and fire inspector; an adjunct instructor in fire service programs at Gateway Technical College; and safety director for Scherrer Construction Co., Inc. Havel has a bachelor's degree from St. Norbert College; has more than 30 years of experience in facilities management and building construction; and has presented classes at FDIC.

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