Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on July 18, 2022.

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With deadly, destructive explosions on the rise—especially in vulnerable neighborhoods—NFPA releases a new standard on installing fuel gas detection and alarm equipment  


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Faced with growing concerns over gas leaks, NFPA has issued a new standard meant to reduce that threat. 

NFPA 715, Standard for the Installation of Fuel Gases Detection and Warning Equipment, went into effect in April. The document passed as a consent standard, meaning no notices of intent to make a motion (NITMAMs) were submitted for consideration at the technical meeting in June. Experts hope the issuance of the new document will help reduce the risk of gas fires and explosions, which on average kill 40 and injure 140 Americans each year, according to NFPA data. 

RELATEDRead “Early Warning” (November/December 2020 NFPA Journal)

“Now that NFPA 715 has been published, it’s my hope that law-making bodies across the country will adopt the standard and make it enforceable,” said Stephen Olenick, the NFPA 715 technical committee chair, who also works as an engineer at Maryland-based Combustion Science & Engineering. “Additionally, I hope authorities having jurisdiction will become aware of the requirements in the standard and start educating builders and requiring these best practices for the installation of fuel gas detectors and alarms in their communities. As more NFPA 715-compliant installations make their way into the built environment, it will provide a higher level of protection for the public.” 

Efforts to begin writing NFPA 715 began in 2018, when the American Gas Association sent a request to NFPA for a document like NFPA 715 to be developed. Experts say it fills a gap in the safety ecosystem for natural gas and propane, which are used by more than half of Americans to heat their homes. 

Prior to NFPA 715, there was no comprehensive guidance on installing fuel gas detection equipment, Olenick told NFPA Journal for a feature article on gas leaks that appeared in the November/December 2020 issue. “You could perhaps look at the manufacturer instructions, but there are really no prescriptive requirements,” Olenick said. “That was where the push for the standard came from, and it’s our hope that the standard will provide guidance to these municipalities. They will have a standard that will tell them how to properly install these devices.” 

The release of the new standard comes after several years of rising numbers of residential gas leaks throughout the United States.

BIG DAMAGE A September 2019 propane explosion in Farmington, Maine, left debris scattered for blocks (top). Over 100 buildings were destroyed during a string of September 2018 gas explosions and fires in the Merrimack Valley region of Massachusetts (bottom).  GETTY IMAGES

From 2007 to 2016, the number of residential gas leaks reported annually in the US jumped from about 100,000 to 141,000, according to an NFPA report published in 2018. As the country’s gas pipeline infrastructure continues to age, experts predict these numbers will continue to rise. A study published in July in the International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology found that these leaks are also beginning to disproportionately affect lower-income minority populations who live in dense urban centers, where gas leaks can wreak widespread havoc. On a quiet summer morning in a predominantly black Baltimore neighborhood in 2020, for instance, a gas explosion destroyed three brick rowhouses, leaving two dead and dozens more injured.

RELATED: Read the full FPRF report, Combustible Gas Dispersion in Residential Occupancies and Detector Location Analysis

The requirements outlined in NFPA 715 were largely informed by a Fire Protection Research Foundation report released in August 2020. The study found that, in general, gas detectors aren’t as effective when placed near HVAC equipment, door gaps, stairwells, or other areas where there are openings or airflow. For natural gas, detectors worked best when placed closer to the ceiling, while for propane, they worked best when placed closer to the floor—this is because natural gas vapors are lighter than air and propane vapors are heavier.

“We looked at numerous leak conditions and leak rates for numerous structural configurations to create what I would call a performance-based study,” Scott Davis, one of the authors of the study and CEO of the Maryland-based fire and explosion safety consultant agency Gexcon US, told NFPA Journal.

ANGELO VERZONI is associate editor of NFPA Journal. Follow him on Twitter @angelo_verzoni.