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Robert Lamoureux: Gas shut off valve for earthquakes

Your Home Improvements

Posted: June 23, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 23, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Hey Robert,

I discovered a gas leak in my home. I went outside to shut off the gas valve and discovered I have an emergency shut off valve. Why didn't it turn the gas off?

Sonny R.


Hi Sonny,

The emergency shut off valve is for earthquakes, not for gas leaks. It can't differentiate between supply and demand. The gas valve will shut down on anything over a 4.0. It works on the same principle as the tilt on a pinball machine.

The shut off valve has a pendulum that sits inside a ring. An earthquake will cause the pendulum to swing. If it touches the ring, it will then shut off the flow of gas to your home.

The best recommendation with any gas problem is to call the gas company. It will not charge you and will check all of your appliances. If the problem is the company's responsibility, it will fix it. If the problem is a homeowner responsibility, I would recommend you call a licensed plumber as they handle gas repairs.



I'm trying to take our security screen door down. It has a weird screw that I can't get out.

The head of the screw is beveled and won't back out. Do you know what I'm talking about? A screwdriver won't take them out. Is there a special tool for these screws? I definitely don't want to damage my siding. Thank you,

Matt L.


Hi Matt,

Those are what we call one-way screws. They only go on one way and cannot be removed with a screwdriver. That's the purpose of them so that someone can't just unscrew them and get inside your home.

What you can do is gut a surface grinder and grind off the heads of the screws. There should be four of them - two on the top and bottom. Once ground, pull the door off. Then take a pair of pliers to the shank and unthread them.


Hi Robert,

We have a fairly large community and would like to remain anonymous. We have what I believe to be Edison boxes that are in our plant life. We have contacted Edison several times requesting they be painted because they look terrible with no luck. Are we as an HOA allowed to paint those boxes ourselves?



Sure, if it isn't going to paint it, you can paint the boxes yourselves. Just make sure you first mask off all of the labels to protect any identifying numbers. Then just scuff and paint as closely to the original color as possible.



I wanted to put some carriage lights on my garage. When I opened the drywall to do the electrical, there was a big steel beam from the floor up to the second floor right where I wanted to put the lights.

Do you know what this beam is and can you drill into it for electrical work? Thanks,

Jack L.


Hi Jack,

The steel beam you are describing a moment frame. The purpose is to protect the structure during an earthquake.

The beams are set in concrete and all of the framing is tied to the moment frame. During an earthquake, they are designed to tolerate forces and allow the building to flex to help prevent damage.

Seeing as how it is a structural design, you can't drill the moment frame. You don't want to alter that in any way.


Hi Robert,

I have a 40' driveway that I want to resurface. There are a few cracks I'd like to deal with also. My questions are a.) where do I get the resurfacing material; b.) how do I apply it and c.) how do I specifically address the cracking, if necessary. You've got the best column in the paper and I don't go a week without reading it first. Thank you,

Stan N.


Hi Stan,

Thank you.

I think one of the best products out there is Black Knight. It's available at most local hardware stores.

If the cracks are fairly deep, you want to first backfill them with some silica sand. Fill the void up to about 1/2" from the top. Then apply crack filler which is available in a caulk gun or by the gallon and let it set overnight.

The easiest way to apply the resurfacer is with a broom. Keep in mind that the broom will leave brush marks but these will eventually go away with cars driving over it.

If you want a more even application you can put it on with a squeegee. Be careful not to get it on city sidewalks. If you do, clean it up with a solvent. Xylene works best or you can even go with something like baby oil.


Hey Robert,

In front of my business, I have a sidewalk that is raising. There are no trees anywhere near this area, but one corner is up about 1" and as far as I can tell, the curb is not moving, just the sidewalk. Do you have any idea what is causing this and how to fix it? I'm concerned that someone may trip coming into my store. Thank you,

Jim F.


Hi Jim,

It's expansive soil or soil with clay or shale was brought in and put down bone dry and not compacted the right way when they poured concrete over it.

Over the years, when water soaks down into this soil, it will start expanding and lift your sidewalk.

You'll probably start to see cracks in the sidewalk when it contracts again, and maybe inside on your walls.

You could repair the concrete that will lessen the liability of a trip hazard, but the problem will remain which could lead to foundation damage.

Make sure that you have proper drainage in that area to prevent any ponding from watering or rains.

You also want to limit any excessive irrigation near that area. Depending on how bad the situation becomes, you may need to contact a soil engineer that specializes in expansive soil that could make recommendations which may involve re-grading and/or installing a drainage system.

We have designed a custom, full-color The Signal/Your Home Improvements T-shirt we will give you if we answer your question. The T-shirt is available to be picked up at our office.

Robert Lamoureux has 25 years experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contacting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor, after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Send your questions to



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