CSST consists of a continuous, flexible, stainless steel pipe, and typically is covered with a yellow exterior plastic coating. The CSST installed on your property may have been manufactured by Titeflex, Ward, OmegaFlex, or Parker Hannifin.
• Titeflex's CSST is stamped with the mark "GASTITE."
• Ward's is stamped with the mark "WARDFLEX."
• OmegaFlex's is stamped with the marks
"COUNTERSTRIKE" or "TRACPIPE."
• Parker Hannifin's CSST is stamped with the mark "PARFLEX."
Contractors like CSST because it installs fast and easy compared to traditional black-steel pipes. It comes in rolls and can be pulled through an installation much like electrical wiring. And experts say it is in general a safe product - statistically, cooking is far and away the No. 1 cause of house fires nationwide. Lightning doesn't even make the top 10, much less CSST.
The key to CSST safety, particularly in lightning-prone areas, is proper installation.
CSST is thin — about .2 mm, or the thickness of two sheets of paper — compared with 4 mm for black pipe. Lightning surging through improperly grounded and bonded CSST can arc, puncture a hole in the line, ignite the gas inside and cause a fire.
Ron Lipps, deputy fire marshal in Fishers, Ind., has had 33 house fires this year in his fast-growing Indianapolis suburb of 65,000 people. About 10 of those involved lightning and three of those involved CSST. He suspects CSST in two more but is waiting the results of the investigation.
Those CSST fires all happened in a monthlong series of lightning storms in May and June. Another lightning storm rolled through his city in July. Several houses with CSST were struck but the gas lines didn't ignite and to date this year, he's had 32 houses struck by lightning with no resulting fire. "I don't know the rhyme or reason," Lipps says.
Lightning flash densities are highest in the Midwest and Southeast, according to Vaisala, owner of the National Lightning Detection Network.
But for contractors like Ted Zurn of highly rated Zurn Plumbing Service in Atlanta, black pipe is the best material for most natural gas jobs. "I don't have anything against [CSST]," Zurn says. "We are just very cautious about new materials until they have been tried and tested. We've been around 23 years and we stand behind whatever we do. We want to make sure what we do is going to last and not cause any problems."
He uses CSST only for short extensions for gas grills or additions to an existing system. Also, the tubing and fittings are "three times more expensive" than black pipe, he says. "The labor savings is the big push for it."
Another highly rated plumber on Angie's List declined to comment on the record. He likes CSST and uses it almost exclusively. "I have too much of it out there to say something that might be a liability," he says. "We've installed it for years."
To see if you have CSST, look for long stretches of yellow-jacketed flexible tubing in your basement, crawlspace or attic. The short flexible connector to your gas-fired stove, furnace or hot water heater is not CSST. One brand of CSST has a black jacket.
The next step is to call a home inspector or licensed electrician, tell them you think you have CSST and you want to make sure it's been properly grounded.
Correcting an existing installation can cost as little as $100 to a few hundred dollars, depending on your house. Replacing CSST with black pipe can cost several thousand dollars. George says she has been quoted $250 to correct her CSST and about $4,000 to replace it.