Couple questions about getting natural gas installed

My wife and I bought our townhouse about three and a half years ago. We were first-time buyers. The place is all electric. In fact, I’ve never in my life lived somewhere that had gas.

One of the thoughts that is in the back of my head is that at some point in the future, the water heater will need to be replaced. When that time comes, I want to change over to a tankless system - ideally, point-of-use heaters in the kitchen and the two bathrooms.

A year or more ago I looked into it a little, and what I took away was that electric tankless heaters aren’t cost efficient, and not worth it. But gas ones definitely are. Except that we don’t have gas. So I went to NW Natural’s website, and plugged in my address, and it told me that gas is available in my complex.

I never pursued it any further. However, on the side of the building there’s a meter of some kind, that I’ve noticed while driving by. I kept thinking I should go take a look at it, but I never remembered to do so. Until this morning.

My building has four units. If you stand out in the street facing the building, my unit is #3 from the left. The meter is on the side of unit #4. I walked over there and checked it out, and yep, it says “NW Natural.” I snapped this picture.

So, my questions:

Looking at the setup in the picture, it appears that the building is “gas-ready,” but only unit #2 has it currently hooked up. Does that sound correct?

It also appears that gas comes in from the left side, goes through the meter, and out through that pipe behind the meter into the ground…?

If that is correct, then if I decide to have gas installed, does that mean a pipe needs to be run somehow from this meter location to my townhouse? Like tunneling underground or something?

And what will happen inside my house? Descriptions online only say vague things like “a line needs to be run to the location the gas is needed.” Well, what does that entail? Do they need to tear apart the innards of my house to do that?

That is a gas meter for sure. It looks as though all you need is a meter installed and a gas line run to your unit, and then to where the gas using appliance is to be installed.

I’m certain that a licensed plumber, or whoever is authorized to install gas appliances in your state will be required. Additionally there will certainly be permits and inspections required.

Is there a basement in your unit?
Is there a basement or crawl space under adjoining units?
Is the desired location for the appliances on the lower level and is there easy access from the basement or crawl space?
Do you need permission from the complex management?

Depending on location it’s possible that gas may be run in copper tubing rather than iron pipe. If so, that makes it easier to run with less mess involved.

There’s a crawlspace, which is the same size and shape as the unit, AFAICT. I would assume the other units must have one as well. So for the downstairs, yes, I think there is easy access. Oh, and the upstairs bathroom is above the downstairs bathroom.

As for permission, the HOA handbook says I’m free to get gas installed, I just have to fill out some form with them and pay a fee.

No, my guess (a guess, because you didn’t tell us where in the USA this is) is that the gas … and out through that pipe on the left that goes up and then directly into the wall of the building. Once inside, it runs through the crawl space and connects to the various gas appliances in the unit. The pipe that goes from the meter downward is for an electrical ground. Gas flowing swiftly through pipes can generate a buildup of static electricity. That’s a bad thing around natural gas, so dissipating it via an electrical ground on both sides of the meter is a good idea.

If you’re real lucky, behind that wall in the crawl space is an existing, unconnected pipe that runs to your unit, maybe even to likely locations for gas appliances. So all your installer/plumber has to do is connect the appliance to one end of that pipe, and then connect the new meter they will install to the unconnected pipe inside that wall.

If not so lucky, the installer will have to install gas piping all the way from the newly installed meter to the location for your gas water heater. Still pretty easy, if you have a crawl space available. Hint: at the same time, have them install pipes to the locations of your stove & clothes dryer, for future use, if you ever replace those appliances with gas ones. And having both options available will enhance the value of your house, if you ever decide to sell.

Can you slide out your cook stove or clothes dryer to get a look behind them? If you see a valve (usually with a yellow shut off) you got lucky and gas was already piped to your townhouse. If there is valves do you see one near your current water heater?

Also with a gas water heater you would need some sort of vent for the exhaust to the outside. Now with a point of use system with each bathroom and kitchen I would think each one of them would also need some sort of exhaust for a gas heater. Been many years since I looked at a tankless system so maybe technology has changed and there are now ventless tankless gas water heaters.

If you zoom in, it looks like the pipe doesn’t go directly into the wall, but does go down into the ground and then presumably to the crawl space. The gas line should be bonded to the building electrical ground, a steel pipe like that wouldn’t be considered a sufficient ground in my area as steel pipe underground should be wrapped and coated or otherwise protected from corrosion. Such protection also will electrically insulate the pipe. Note the pipe in the photo is painted (though showing a little bit of rust), I doubt it is there to provide a ground.

What also caught my eye is that entire manifold is supported only by the riser in the left and the pipe feeding gas to unit #2. If no units had gas that entire manifold would just be cantilevered off of the riser. That’s neither here nor there for the question here, just a observation on the installation.

And GESancMan, running the gas to the water heater location isn’t all you need to do. You will also very likely need to provide combustion air to the water heater. Is the water heater in a small area like a closet?

This is in Beaverton, OR. My apologies; it never occurred to me that my location would matter.

The furnace and water heater are side-by-side in the laundry room. The washer and dryer are already out from the wall. I don’t see anything that looks like it could be a gas line. I Googled images, and I don’t see anything like that in my wall. The only things coming in/out of the wall appear to be water lines and drain lines, and the exhaust duct for the dryer.

Still, though, thanks for the replies, everyone. Good to know that the bare bones are in place already, if I ever decide to go through with this.

ETA: Another piece of data, if it matters: my place was built in 1974.

Modern gas lines are run with a Flexible Steel tubing (CSST). CSST usually has a yellow jacket.
It’s made by several companies.

CSST can be bought in large rolls. HD has it in 75ft and 250ft rolls. There shouldn’t be any connections needed between the meter and appliance.

It saves a lot of time and eliminates the main source of leaks.

You do need a licensed plumber.

Cost me $275 to get a gas line run for my new Dryer.

Same plumber ran gas to my Generac Generator. It’s legal to run that steel tubing above ground. I was disappointed that it can’t be run underground.

Go talk to the owner of unit #2 to see what he had to do and what it cost (although he may well tell you it was already installed when he bought the place).

Another thing that you may want to establish is whether the current supply can provide the volume that multiple tankless heaters require. I was considering one when the (electric) water heater that came with my house died, but was told that the supply to the house was insufficient and would have to be replaced at considerable cost.

(Please note that this was about ten years ago, and the rationale was that a tankless heater needs more pressure than a tanked model that didn’t need to work so hard. Things may be quite different today.)

I already had gas heat when I moved into my condo, but I had an electric stove and wanted gas. Luckily, my unit is the one closest to the meter so it was relatively quick to install a branch with a separate pressure regulator for the stove. I am thrilled to be cooking with gas. A new neighbor saw this and asked for an estimate for their unit. But their unit is far further from the meter and it was determined that it couldn’t be done for them because we have no crawl space, just a concrete slab. Go get the estimate. I think gas is worth it.

this is a good starting point. also, if their usage would be similar (same number of occupants, similar floorplan, etc…), see what their bills run each month compared to yours.

you’ll need a licensed plumber or hvac guy to pull the permits and do the work (assuming your area is like most others). ask around for references, get a few estimates. you can save some money if you offer to patch any drywall that gets disturbed (not much, but maybe something).

be sure to have the supply to the house sized for what you might conceivably want to run on gas in the future versus just what you immediately want. the cost to upsize piping initially is far less than redoing something later.

also, see if any other neighbors have thought about doing this. it may be you could find a discount to be had there if you can coordinate the work.

good luck.

The code inspector will probably ask for a pressure test. The plumber will probably fill it with nitrogen at 10psi. It has to hold that pressure for 24 hours.

It may vary from city to city and the code requirements…

Pressure tests are common for new gas service installations. They may also be required if service to a house has been disconnected for an extended time. (like a year or more)

When I moved in to my current house, there was a gas supply but only for the (downstairs) furnace and water heater; there was no gas supply in the upstairs kitchen. I had a gas line run to the kitchen, which I thought would be a nightmare of opening up walls and replastering. But the installers just ran a line out a crawlspace vent, up the exterior wall of the house to the second floor, then through the exterior kitchen wall.