CSST Testing with John Holecek


Expertise Includes:

    • Electrical & Mechanical Control Systems
    • Fires & Explosions
    • Gas Fired Equipment & Appliances
    • ICC, NFPA, OSHA Codes & Standards
    • Industrial Processes & Operations

I get to work with some really cool guys and from time to time, we do some really cool things; “things that make you go hmmm,” (as Arsenio Hall used to say).

Recently, I worked with John Holecek on CSST testing at Warren. Briefly, CSST (corrugated stainless steel tubing) is flexible metal tubing used to plumb a fuel gas burning appliance like a furnace. It is, in some ways, easier to install than straight black pipe and, some say, less expensive. However, CSST has also been the subject of controversy – which can be researched with a Google search.

At issue in this test is whether or not electrical arcs can perforate (pop a hole) in CSST. One hypothesis in this vein is that, under fire conditions, typical household voltage (110-120V) is sufficient to do so. This potential has a been a point of discussion in some CSST fires. I will not steal John’s thunder by going into too much detail about the testing because he will be presenting his findings at the 2014 ISFI Conference, but I will say that after some of the tests we ran, it is possible.

Fire energized conductors, one CSST with flowing gas, and an open flame.

Fire energized conductors, one CSST with flowing gas, and an open flame.

In a nutshell, we ran 3 and 4 wire conductors from individual breakers perpendicularly across a length CSST tubing, attached a fuel gas source, energized the conductors, opened the valve on the gas lines, set a fire under the CSST tubing, and watched it all burn. When it was all “said and done”, we harvested the remains of the conductors and CSST and analyzed them.

Some of the effects could be seen with the “naked eye” while others required more sophisticated equipment. We were able to get a closer look at our heavily burned specimens under the microscope, and with the aid of a scanning electron microscope (SEM) and Energy Dispersive X-ray Spectroscopy (EDS) were able to get compositional analysis of some interesting “splatter” on the some of the CSST.

Image of a hole in CSST taken with SEM.

Image of a hole in CSST taken with SEM.

Like I mentioned above, some really cool stuff. To find out more about our testing, look for John’s paper and presentation at the 2014 ISFI Conference or order their proceedings.

(Note: No engineers, engineer’s assistant, or fire investigators were harmed during this testing. However, some eyebrow hair and arm hair was lost to the cause).

Keith Atkinson is a certified fire and explosion investigator by the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI). In addition to being an accident investigation technician, Keith is a licensed private investigator in South Carolina and North Carolina. A corporate certified property and evidence specialist, Keith has more than a decade of experience working closely with engineers on cases including research, testing, evidence management, examinations, code and standard evaluation. He coordinates evidence inspections conducted at the Warren Laboratory. While he already holds a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of South Carolina, he is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering at the University of South Carolina.

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