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Keep gas meters clear of ice and snow, Xcel Energy urges

Xcel Energy officials strongly recommend that natural gas customers keep their gas meters free of ice and snow to prevent the potential for a dangerous natural gas pressure buildup in their homes.

Accumulation of ice and snow on or around natural gas meters can lead to a dangerous natural gas buildup inside a house or other buildings. Snow and ice on roofs and in trees can melt and drip on meters, then refreeze, increasing the potential for a meter malfunction. Xcel Energy also recommends that appliance vents, often located on a home's roof, be kept clear in order to operate properly.

The natural gas meter's regulator vent is especially vulnerable to plugging any time there is a combination of snow and ice buildup and fluctuating temperatures. A plugged vent can adversely affect the operation of the gas pressure regulator, resulting in a potentially hazardous condition by preventing the flow of natural gas.

Xcel Energy strongly recommends that customers very gently remove snow or ice from the gas meter and any associated piping and the roofline above the meter Also check to ensure that melting snow or ice is not dripping on the meter from the roof or nearby trees, which can plug the vent if it refreezes.

It is also recommended that customers maintain a clean path to and from the meter to allow easy access in the event of an emergency. Carefully shovel around the meter and clear the meter itself by hand. Avoid using any sharp tool, including a shovel, and snow blower on or near the meter and piping.

Xcel Energy encourages annual inspections of your natural gas appliances and venting systems as a key defense against carbon monoxide poisoning. With heavy snowfall, it's possible that your home's venting systems, such as an outdoor air intake vent to a fuel-burning appliance, can become packed with snow or ice. It's also important to make sure that these vents are not clogged with debris such as leaves and birds' nests.

Carbon monoxide can develop if venting systems or appliances are not operating properly. Inspections are extremely important because they can determine and correct the source of a problem if one exists.

Xcel Energy reminds natural gas customers that if they smell natural gas in their homes to leave the house immediately and to follow these other important safety precautions:

*Don't turn lights on or off or use any other electrical switches, including garage door openers, under any circumstances.

*Don't open any windows or doors other than the ones you pass through on your way out.

*Don't use a cell phone or any other phone while still in the house; go to a neighbor's house or other safe place away from your home to call Xcel Energy's gas emergency number - 1-800-895-2999 -- for help, or 9-1-1 in an emergency.

*Don't return to the home until a safety expert such as a utility company employee or firefighter says it's safe to do so.

Before removing snow from rooftops or trees, always first look up to find any overhead power line and then keep yourself and any tool you're using a minimum of 10-feet away. Assume all power lines are energized and therefore dangerous.