Copper Delivers Gas
Many builders in Florida are now specifying copper for gas distribution as a result of a concerted program to promote copper tube to deliver natural gas within new homes. To builders and contractors, the main advantage of copper tube over competitive materials is lower cost, plus the fact that the copper is available in long, flexible rolls and is easy to install, which can reduce labor costs tremendously. The program was started in 1995 in Tampa by Peoples Gas, since acquired by Teco Energy, a division of Tampa Electric Company.
When Peoples Gas launched its drive to promote gas usage, builders told the utility's executives that gas installation costs for heating and cooking weren't competitive with electricity. However, Mike Romano, the utility's vice president of marketing, decided to find out what other suppliers of natural gas were doing to stay competitive.
At Alagasco, the Alabama gas company, he was attracted to its two-pound-pressure system for distributing gas with copper tube. "With a two-pound system, you can install ½-inch or 3/8-inch copper tube instead of ¾-inch or 1-inch rigid black steel tube," Romano says.
As a result of Romano's investigation, the utility launched its Peoples Gas Advantage Dealer program, which Romano describes as "a partnership with developers and contractor-installers to promote gas service for new homes." The program provides information to builders, training for installers and sales-support materials for homeowners about the benefits of a gas home, plus rebates on gas-appliance installations to defray costs.
Near Doubling of Installations
According to Billy McWilliams of Countryside Propane, Plant City, Florida, whose company took on gas-piping installations to supplement its propane business, "natural gas usage has grown from 6 to 11 percent of households in our area in just five years as a result of the Peoples Gas promotion to builders."
Keith Hodge of Hodge Plumbing, Lakeland, Florida, installed gas distribution piping in 65 homes at a local development called Shepard Oaks. At first he used either black pipe or corrugated stainless steel tubing (CSST). Brent Lipham, an operations manager for Peoples Gas, recommended copper as a less-costly alternative.
"Lipham saw that we were struggling with the price of CSST," said Hodge, "so he brought me copper at less than one-third the cost. At first I had reservations--we were putting in the CSST so fast. But now I can actually do copper faster than CSST. Working with two men, I do six houses a day."
Hodge Plumbing installs distribution systems using annealed copper tube joined with flare fittings purchased from local sources. The long coils and soft temper make it easy for workers to run tubing from a gas manifold, up through attic space and down wall frames to each gas-fueled appliance with few joints.
Countryside Propane's installers have devised a hybrid system running soft copper tube through attics then down to shop-fabricated galvanized-steel drops for individual appliances. "When the crews do all-galvanized gas piping," says Gardner Box, McWilliams' partner, "they complete one, maybe one-and-a-half houses a day. Our guys do a minimum of three houses a day using our hybrid copper-galvanized steel system."
Teco Energy: 813/223-0800