We saw a story that referenced PVC pipe in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune back on Aug. 1 that didn't make any sense. The story was basically a list of laws that were taking effect in Minnesota that day, with a brief description of each one. Here's the blurb that got our attention:
GLOBAL WARMING: Producers and buyers of industrial and commercial gases with a high "global warming potential" must now report data on their sales and use to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Outdoor lighting fixtures installed or replaced with state funds must use specific cutoff luminaires that conserve energy and minimize light pollution. Additionally, homeowners can get up to $250 from the state when replacing PVC piping in home heating oil systems with metal piping.I showed the story to Matt Griswold, our staff reporter who covers building and construction, and it had both of us puzzled. What does replacing PVC pipe in home heating oil systems have to do with global warming? Why would the state pay anyone to replace PVC with metal? (If you think we were confused, check out the comment section of the story on the Star-Tribune's Web site. It's obvious that none of the readers have any idea what this law is about). Matt did some checking, and here's what he found: The state of Minnesota will pay homeowners up to $250 for replacing PVC pipe being used in residents' home heating oil systems with iron pipe. But it is a simple engineering problem, not an environmental one, according to Steve Lee, manager of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Emergency Response unit. In an Aug. 5 telephone interview, Lee explained that in rural parts of the state, many homes are heated with fuel oil. Often, the oil systems are built in a home's basement. When homeowners remodel their basements, some of the do-it-yourself types are relocating the heating oil systems, and using PVC pipe to connect their tanks to the fueling ports outside their homes. In addition to being non-code-compliant, fuel oil has a tendency to attack PVC joints, and can cause the system to fail after a few fill ups, Lee said. The end result can be a homeowner's basement flooded with fuel oil. Where does the money come from? Minnesota has a Petro Fund, Lee said. Anyone who sells petroleum is taxed a penny or two per dollar earned, and that is deposited into the fund. That fund will finance the $250 pipe replacement projects, he said. Also, the state can help homeowners arrange for someone in the pipe trade to come in and put in the proper metal piping that meets the code, he said. So that's the real story: PVC pipe doesn't contribute to global warming, and Minnesota isn't really interested in paying its residents a bounty to get rid of plastic pipe. They just want to protect homeowners from flooding their basements with fuel oil. I don't know about you, but I can sleep better at night knowing the truth. Thanks to Steve Lee and Matt Griswold for solving the mystery.