Lightning, And The Gas Piping System, Caused A House Fire

Home Inspector with Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC 3380-000723

I was exceptionally interested when I got a call from a former client telling me that lightning, and the gas piping system, caused a house fire.

Just under a couple of years ago I did an inspection for this couple's elderly mother's retirement condo.  During the inspection I had noticed that the building was plumbed with a particular gas line made of CSST (corrugated stainless steel tubing) - and the brand was TracPipe.  That CSST is involved with a court case, and I alerted them.

My insurance company had suggested that I put particular wording in my reports whenever CSST is used, and other additional wording if the brand is TracPipe.  The suggested wording has to do with grounding and bonding, and includes information about the tubing.  I also say that there is between 1 billion and 1.5 billion linear feet of this stuff nationwide, so while the potential for a problem exists, it is minimal.

I told them that there was an excellent blog they could read written by Reuben Salzman.  They called later and asked if I could get them information to contact Reuben, and they did.  And when they got home from our inspection, they discovered they had it on their single family home! 

There was no contact since, until the other day!  Their house had been struck by lightning!

It struck the gas line, cracked the foundation in four places, and followed the gas tubing throughout the house.

It also jumped to some electrical and exited the house through a lower, rear light.  Neighbors said that the rear of the house looked like fireworks were coming out of it!


To make a long story short, a smoldering fire started that was blocked by the kitchen floor ceramic tile. 

All the appliances in the house were zapped beyond repair.

Both gas furnaces were zapped as well.

The basement had to be gutted, with some structural members replaced.

All of the CSST had been replaced with black iron gas tubing.

The couple called me to come do a pre-drywall inspection, checking the contractor's work before it got sealed in.

Here is one thing I found - many feet of the foundation sill plates had not been strapped after replacement.

You can also see in this photo that the totally-gutted basement had been sprayed completely with KILZ.  It seals back the scorch marks and eliminates the burned odor.  All of that was substantial.

The kitchen also had to be gutted.

Some of the structure and the sub floor had to be replaced.  The ceramic tile, carpeting and hardwood flooring all over the house was also removed.

Their insurance company said that this kind of lightning damage has been happening more and more!

It has happened so much they already had protocols in place. 

The couple was put up immediately in a hotel, and then into a short-term rental home.

And this work has been going on for a few months now.  The work was substantial.  It will be a few more weeks before they are back in the house.

So this is a problem that began with corrugated stainless steel gas tubing!

My recommendation:  be sure that when you see such gas tubing on a home inspection, that your inspector gives you a complete head's up.  Yes, the likelihood that your house will be struck by lightning IS minimal.  But the potential exists!  When you do see it, it is circumspect to have it checked out by a professional.  A couple of weeks ago I found CSST and alerted the buyer, and his Realtor Brian Block.  And a few days ago I got a phone call from them, and their electrician, asking questions as they were having it examined and getting an estimate written for suggested repairs.

Like I said, circumspect.




Posted by

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560


Re-Blogged 3 times:

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Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Thank you Yvonne.  Things are just getting started I think.  This stuff will be in the news a lot.

Dale - glad to do it and intend to continue!

Dan - and thank you!  We all need heads ups about this stuff.

Sure Don.  Post away.  Reuben got a link back in the post.  His was the first really good blog about the TracPipe.

Jan 23, 2012 06:22 AM #43
Steven Cook
No Longer Processing Mortgages. - Tacoma, WA

Jay -- it is amazing to me that the contractor doing the renovation had not strapped down the foundation sill plates.  Maybe he thought that since everything was white, no one would notice.

Jan 23, 2012 07:17 AM #44
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

I don't know why they had not nailed back the straps Steven.  But it was obvious when I moved the insulation that shouldn't have been there yet!

Jan 23, 2012 07:22 AM #45
Kimo Stowell
HI Pro Realty LLC RB-21531 - Honolulu, HI
REALTOR Associate® RS-76763 - Honolulu Hawai'i

Aloha Jay,

Electrical energy is amazing, dangerous, and usually predictable when conductors are properly in place. The quest for cheaper and more cost effective materials doesn't always prove cost effective or more importantly, safe for the consumer. In this case it was a costly disaster to learn from. Ceramic is an excellent electrical insulator but conducts heat very well. Perhaps the ceramic tiles distributed the heat away from the electrical hot spot just enough to keep it from seriously combusting the flooring. 

An acquaintance once related a story about how he was struck by lightening while he was brushing his teeth in his bathroom. The lightening bolt came through the screen door of the house went down the hall turned a corner into the bathroom striking the metal in the vanity and then down through the piping. Aside from his ponytail being blown off his head the only damage to the house was the gaping hole in the screen door. Thanks for sharing this info.


Jan 23, 2012 07:43 AM #46
Jack Gilleland
Home Inspection and Investor Services, Clayton - Clayton, OH

Great post Jay.  Mother nature has a tendency to let you know when you do something wrong.  

Jan 23, 2012 07:50 AM #47
Vince Santos
StepByStep Home Services LC - Canton, MI
Southeast Michigan Home Inspector

Last year I performed an inspection for someone who lost their home due to a lightning strike on CSST. His home burned down to the ground. He said his house literally exploded and the windows blew out in houses across the street.


Jan 23, 2012 08:23 AM #48
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Bonding is required by all manufactures, not just Tracpipe. The yellow Tracpipe is no longer being manufactured as of September of 2010. The black counter strike is said to not have the same issue. I always mention the need for bonding in my report when I find unprotected CSST no matter what brand.  

Jan 23, 2012 08:28 AM #49
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Kimo - that is a fantastic lightning story!  I have a friend who was struck by lightning and still today is very afraid when thunderstorms happen.

Seems to be the way Jack.  Mother Nature is quite the code enforcer!  And she enforces with impunity.  Just look at her!

This must have been quite the deal inside Vince, as the motion sensors on the alarm system detected movement inside the house and called the police!  It wasn't until later that the smoke detectors went off and the fire department was called.

Jim - that's when TracPipe hit the courts.  When I see CSST I simply put the verbiage on the report that my insurance recommended to me, with the links they suggested.

Jan 23, 2012 09:28 AM #50
Liane Thomas -Top Listing Agent
BROKER Allison James Estates & Homes BRE 01885684 - Corona, CA
Bringing you Home!

I have never heard of such a thing! Thank you for the photos and the education. So glad no one was hurt.

Jan 23, 2012 10:28 AM #51
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Glad to inform you Liane!  And I am glad too that everyone was safe.

Jan 23, 2012 11:37 AM #52
Winston Heverly
Winston Realty, Inc. - Atlantis, FL

Did they get a Public Adjuster to help with the claim and settlement? If they didn't based on what you described they left a lot of money on the table.

Jan 23, 2012 02:40 PM #53
Dörte Engel
RE/MAX Leading Edge - Bowie, MD
ABC - Annapolis, Bowie, Crofton & rest of Maryland

Dear Jay,

Is this stuff sometimes covered in yellow plastic, or is that another kind? Would a whole house surge protector have helped?

Jan 23, 2012 03:14 PM #54
Gene Riemenschneider
Home Point Real Estate - Brentwood, CA
Turning Houses into Homes

Little things can lead to big problems.  I think the issue is there are so many little things you are never quite sure which ones are really important.

Jan 23, 2012 03:23 PM #55
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

I have no idea Winston.  Not my angle!

Dorte - yes, it is covered in yellow, with each manufacturer having its own special yellow.  I don't know if a surge protector would have helped because the lightning struck the gas line.

Gene - not sure what the little issues were here, but there were a lot of important things!

Jan 23, 2012 09:57 PM #56
Sylvie Stuart
Realty One Group Mountain Desert 928-600-2765 - Flagstaff, AZ
Home Buying, Home Selling and Investment - Flagsta

That is quite a story. Very interesting, I am glad they figured out what actually caused the fire. It's amazing how some lightening strikes can cause a fire and foundation cracks and others can just short fuse a few fans. I'm glad no one was hurt.

Jan 24, 2012 12:39 AM #57
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Lightning strikes are incredibly powerful Sylvie.  I often wonder if the surge protector against that has been created!

And your dog is almost as cute as mine!

Jan 24, 2012 12:42 AM #58
Evelyn Kennedy
Alain Pinel Realtors - Alameda, CA
Alameda, Real Estate, Alameda, CA


What a story.  At least the owners had a heads up about a possible problem.  I am bookmarking your post for future use.

Jan 24, 2012 06:38 AM #59
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Great Evelyn!  There should be some future use too!

Jan 24, 2012 09:39 AM #60
Bob Miller
Keller Williams Cornerstone Realty - Ocala, FL
The Ocala Dream Team

Hi Jay, great post thanks for sharing.  Even if it helps one "gazillionth" of the population that would help. lol

Jan 24, 2012 10:02 PM #61
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

And hopefully it will get to that small population in a gazillionth of a second Bob!

Jan 24, 2012 10:04 PM #62
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