Waconia, MN- By Emily Hedges, Waconian Patriot

A basement explosion at 417 Westminster Ave. NE in Watertown on Jan. 23 caused only minor damage, but sent a major message about the dangers of ice buildup on gas meters.

According to the Carver County Sheriff’s Office, a gas relief valve on the outside of the house was covered with ice and caused gas to build up in the furnace room. Smoke damage was reported to the house and fire damage was reported to one wall in the furnace room. No injuries were reported.

“They were lucky because not much gas had leaked into the house. What did leak happened in a room with an ignition source which caused the explosion. It could have leaked and filled up the whole house with gas,” said Watertown Fire Chief Ned Schroeder.

With recent temperatures above freezing during the day and below freezing at night, melting ice and snow on roofs and in trees can melt and drip on meters, then refreeze, increasing the potential of equipment malfunction leading to dangerous natural gas pressure buildup in the home.

“The natural gas meter’s regulator vent is especially vulnerable to plugging any time we have a combination of snow and ice buildup and fluctuating temperatures,” said Don Hauer, manager of natural gas field operations for Xcel Energy. “A clogged vent can adversely affect the operation of the gas pressure regulator, resulting in a potentially hazardous condition.”

According to Schroeder, although most problems are detected by a smell of gas in the home, this is not always the case.

To prevent a problem, Hauer recommends maintaining a clean meter and a path to and from the device. “Carefully shovel around the meter and clear the meter itself by hand. Avoid using a snow blower near the meter, he said. Also, check to ensure that melting snow or ice is not dripping on the meter from the roof or nearby trees.

Schroeder encourages residents not to try to clear off ice if buildup is present. Instead, call the gas company for assistance.