My name is Mary. I’m an aging person with an aging house. I’m going to tell the story of transforming my house from something I don’t want into something I do...

I got the electricity shut off. I got the water shut off. And I am trying to get the gas shut off. My problems dealing with Washington Gas will fill up an entire blog.

All of these things have to be done before the house can be torn down. And the gas, especially, has to be shut off at the point where the pipe enters the property or there would be the risk of breaking a pipe with gas pressure inside it. That would be disastrous.

(Mary McCutcheon)

About six weeks ago, I called the gas company’s number for Virginia customers and followed the menu choices until I got a live human being. I explained that I was going to be tearing my house down and needed to shut off the gas. “Oh,” he said, “you’ll have to call the razing desk at 703-...”. I did this and got a message, which said, cryptically:

“If you need a demo letter for your project, you have to fax in your paperwork to the razing desk. The fax number is 703-…-….. Most projects take at least five to six weeks to get a letter back from Washington Gas during this time of year...”

Then there was a beep in case I wanted to leave a message.

I didn’t understand what paperwork there was to fax, so I left a message asking for further instructions. And I didn’t understand what exactly was going to take five to six weeks.

As I thought about it, I realized that, for the short term, I really wanted the service turned off. The house was not well-locked and the gas stove could be turned on by accident or on purpose.

I called back to the 703 number and spoke with the same man I had already spoken with a few minutes earlier. I explained that I had called earlier and just wanted the gas service terminated. He replied that he knew I was going to tear down the house, so he couldn’t let me bypass the razing desk. I said, “Well, just pretend I called to ask you to shut off the gas. Just pretend I’m moving away or I’m going on vacation.” He said he couldn’t pretend anything.

So I called the area code 202 (D.C.) number in the hopes that I could start my conversation anew, and, wouldn’t you know, the same man answered. I tried to act like a new caller anyway, and said with a thinly disguised voice, “I’d like to have my gas shut off and the account closed, please.”

“I recognize your voice,” he protested, “YOU NEED TO CALL THE RAZING DESK.”

So back to the answering machine at the razing desk, where I left another message.

A day later. Two days later. There was no return call, so I tried again to talk to the person at the main number. By now I knew better than to admit that I was going to tear down the house and said, simply, that I wanted the gas shut off and pay my final bill and be done with it. The man who answered said, cheerfully, “Of course, we can do that. It’ll be done on Monday morning.” By now I was completely baffled. The gas was indeed shut off the following Monday. I paid my final bill and that was that.

But I still needed to call the razing desk to get the system completely closed at the property line. After multiple tries, I eventually talked to a man who informed me that the paperwork referred to in the message was the demolition permit. I asked how I could get a demolition permit before turning off the gas, and he simply said that this was how they operated. My contractor, Ed, said that the demo permit could not be issued until after the gas had been shut off.

So I spent another several days repeatedly calling the razing desk and repeatedly leaving message after message to call me back. No one ever did, but, miraculously, on the upteenth attempt, a woman answered.

I told her that the answering machine message was confusing and I didn’t know what paperwork I should fax. She assured me that a simple notification that I need the gas terminated sent by e-mail would be sufficient. I asked her why the process needed to take five to six weeks and she said they were busy this time of year. I asked her exactly what was going to be done that could take so long, and she said that my builder should know.

I requested that she just explain it to me and she replied slowly and more emphatically, “YOUR BUILDER SHOULD KNOW.” I thanked her, said good-bye and sent her a simple e-mail requesting that the gas company do whatever needed to be done prior to demolition.

I got no response to my e-mail and this began to worry me. A week went by. Two weeks went by. I called again and again and again and got no response. I left more messages for her to return my call. No response.

(Mary McCutcheon)

At the entrance, it is necessary to call from a security intercom to get into the building. I told the receptionist that I wanted to speak with someone at the razing desk. The door opened for me. I approached the reception desk and said, again, that I was there to see someone at the razing desk and the receptionist said she had never heard of it. I began to spell the word figuring she thought I might have said “raising,”as in “elevating to a higher level,” instead of “razing” as in “tearing down.” I got as far as the “R” “A” “Z” when, mercifully, an efficient looking man came up from behind and assured the woman at the desk that he could take me where I wanted to go.

And there was the same woman I had talked to on the phone, sitting at her desk.

I explained why I was there and she said everything was on track for my project. She had received my e-mail but insisted that she had gotten no telephone messages at all. When I explained that the message on her machine was confusing, she said, “Oh yes. I know people don’t know what is meant by ‘paperwork,’ so I’m going to change that message.”

She explained that it is spring and summer, which are the busy times of year, and that the process involves three stages: capping off the system, removing the meter, and writing the letter detailing all of this. It does sometimes take five to six weeks if the outside contractor who caps off the system is overloaded with other work. She promised me that the work would take place on May 11 and the letter would be drafted immediately after that.

Finally, I asked her how I would ever have known any of this if I had not come to see her face to face. She replied, “You could have called me up!”

For the record, I just called the razing desk again. They have changed their answering machine message. It is absolutely clear now.

It’s the morning of May 11, the awaited day of gas-shutoff. The line was capped yesterday, and now I just need the meter removed. I hung around the house this morning with the dogs, a cup of coffee, and the morning paper. Around 8:30, the gas truck arrived and I met Gus. We went into the basement together, and I left him there to do what needed to be done with the meter.

In a minute he emerged with the meter in his hand.

(Mary McCutcheon)

He shook his head and declared that someone with a hazmat uniform was going to have to come to take the rest of the equipment out: It was ancient and had mercury in it.

So what now? He assured me that the letter required for the demo permit was already in the mail. This is a relief, but it makes me wonder why mercury emitting toxic gas is not also an obstacle to demolition. Never mind. At this point, I don’t feel like asking any more questions.


Why tear it down?

Heating and air conditioning.

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