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Methane Gas Soil Testing in Los Angeles

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Methane Gas Soil Testing in Los Angeles

LADBS requires Methane Soil Gas Testing is a requirement by LADBS if your project is located within a Methane Zone. Methane Testing is an environmental engineering process. Thus it involves certification by the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety (LADBS). In addition with  a Professional Engineering Licensure from the State of California. The Methane Test process must follow the LADBS Site Testing Standards for Methane. During a methane test, records of several measurements and locations are made. Still, the LADBS code requires the Methane Testing Agency to categorize the Methane Site Design Level. Which bases on the highest recorded concentration of Methane.

Sway Features provides the below list of critical questions that should be asked to all Methane Testing Consultants during the request of the proposal for a Methane Test:

Methane Soil Testing – What to Ask!

How much does Methane Soil Gas Testing Cost?
How long will this Methane Test take?
Does LADBS Methane Testing Agency license you?
What drilling method will be in use for this soil test?

Methane Testing Cost and Scheduling

The cost of methane testing will vary depending on the scope of work. Which defines off the LADBS Methane Testing Standards. Based on the LADBS standards, the minimum testing criteria references a land size of 20,000 SqFt. This will require a direct push drilling crew to be onsite. This crew will place methane gas probes 20 feet below the lowest level at two locations within the property.

Historically, few consultants have provided Methane Testing Services in the Los Angeles area. The absence of competition resulted in the high cost of Methane Testing services. The number of Licensed Methane Test Agencies has significantly increased in recent years. This introduction of competition has resulted in a continuous decline in methane testing costs. In 2020 the average Methane Test cost for land less than 20,000 SqFt is $2,200.

Based on the minimum LADBS methane testing standards, a test should take two days to complete. The first day of drilling will consist of underground utility markings. As well as borehole drilling, gas probe placement, and complete methane concentration recordings. The second day of testing will include methane concentration measurements and borehole abandonment.

The scope of work and schedule will change as the property size surpasses 20,000 Sqft. For projects over 20,000 SqFt of land, LADBS will require an initial round of testing at shallow boreholes. The deep borehole locations will be based on the highest measured methane concentrations at the external borehole locations. I recommend verifying the scope with the Environmental Consultant to ensure you can schedule accordingly.

Licensed LADBS Methane Testing Agency

LADBS has established strict requirements to be qualified as a Certified Methane Testing Agency. Often unlicensed companies will offer Methane testing services. Once LADBS reviews the results, they will only accept the Methane Test Report if it is made by a consultant listed on the LADBS Methane Testing Agency. Companies must be on this list to ensure that LADBS will accept the Soil Gas Report.

LADBS must approve the instruments used for methane testing, the gas analyzer can consist of either infrared or catalytic sensors. Each sensor type has to measure characteristics. Including minimum/maximum detectable concentrations and accuracy, allowing the consultant to specify which will be in use for specific subsurface conditions. I ask that the model, make, and year be part of the report, which will be submitted to LADBS. Each gas analyzer company has recommendation frequency for calibration. LADBS requires the methane testing equipment to  calibrate before every project to minimize the possibility of error.

Environmental Direct Push Drilling

Direct push drilling methodology is advanced, similar to hammering a nail into a piece of wood. A directly driven drill rig has a hammer piston that forces drilling probes to penetrate the soil with minimal disturbance to the surrounding areas. Direct push drilling is typically a higher-cost service because of the specialty drill rig and the skill level required by the drillers.

ASTM has established standards for environmental drilling, specifying direct push drilling as the recommended drilling method. Inexperienced environmental engineering companies will utilize rotary drilling techniques to reduce methane test costs and maximize profit margins. Using rotary drilling methods is not recommended by ASTM because of the intrusive methodology of the advancement. The disruption to the soil can alter the results of the methane test, deeming the results void or unreliable.


Underground Utility Clearing – Soil Report

Locating and marking underground utilities is the responsibility of the environmental professional conducting the Methane Soil Gas Test. During the methane testing drilling process, it is required to penetrate the ground a minimum of 20 feet below the ground surface. Doing so can unintentionally damage gas, water, electrical or sewage pipes.

The Underground Service Alert of Southern CA (DigAlert) is a non-profit corporation that utility members fund to promote safety during the drilling or excavation in southern California. It is legally required to contact DigAlert before conducting a methane Test. The DigAlert team will mark all underground utilities with chalk paint, ensuring that you are taking preventative measures to reduce the possibility of destruction to existing underground utilities.

It is often difficult to locate underground utilities because of large areas with unpredictable utility line routings. In these cases, LADBS may require you to hire a third party to conduct ground-penetrating radar to ensure all borehole locations are cleared. To ensure everything runs smoothly with running into underground utilities, always verify with your methane test consultant that they will be identifying and removing all underground utilities.


Evaluating Methane Test Results

Once the results of your methane test are available, you will want to provide the test results to your Architect. In most cases, a methane mitigation design must be submitted to LADBS along with this methane test. The methane mitigation design will include the required methane gas mitigation components to ensure that your property is safe from methane intrusion. If your property is located in a Methane Zone, you will require methane mitigation no matter what methane Site design level your property is categorized in. The Methane Test is necessary to establish the extent of mitigation components ranging from passive to active systems.

Methane Gas Mitigation Design

The methane mitigation design complexity will range depending on several factors, including architectural design, structural design, methane site design level, water table depth, and more. LADBS has established methane mitigation design standard plans; these plans include vague and broad information regarding the methane mitigation design for a project. On simple tasks, a plan checker may permit the submittal of the LADBS Standard Plans for the methane mitigation design.

Although the LADBS plan checker will accept the standard plans, I don’t think moving forward with this direction is recommended. The LADBS traditional plans must provide the information required to construct mitigation systems. During Methane Membrane Construction, the contractor will need more information and instruction, leading to clarity and delays. Often developers who initially decided to use the Standard plan regret their decision and end up hiring a consultant to design the Mitigation Plan during Construction.

What do Methane Test Results say about my project?

If the methane test results showed significant methane levels, your project is most likely within the Methane Zone or Methane Buffer Zone. These are areas near oil and gas wells, petroleum fields, and landfills. Hydrocarbons such as methane vapor, radon, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are at high risk of migrating and building up inside a structure. LADBS will conclude that a methane mitigation plan will be needed.

The Methane mitigation requirements that must be met for your project will be determined by the Methane test results. These results will be outlined in the Methane Mitigation design and implemented in the construction.

The methane test results categorize your project using the levels of methane testing, which can vary between Levels 1 and 5, five being the greatest. The number of criteria depends on the story. If your methane test results are in Level 5, there will be more mitigation requirements compared to a project categorized in Level 1. LADBS rarely prevents project construction due to high methane concentrations; instead, you must implement specific mitigation requirements outlined by the LADBS Methane Mitigation Code.

The methane mitigation requirements for Level 5 methane zone within LADBS jurisdictions might require a methane barrier, specialized Active sub slab methane extraction systems, lowest space ventilation system, a Methane detection and Alarm system, installation of ventilation risers, perforated ventilation pipes in gravel blankets. This will need to be prepared by a licensed engineer so that an LADBS plan check will be implemented.

For low levels of Methane Gas

Methane Test Results that show low levels of Methane Gas concentrations may not require any Methane Mitigation components if you are in the Methane Buffer Zone. However, if your project is in the Methane Zone, your project will require Methane Mitigation components regardless of the Methane Test results; in these cases, the methane test is conducted to establish the extent of the Methane Mitigation components. In all patients, a Methane Mitigation Consultant and the LADBS plan checker must evaluate the project-specific details to develop the final Methane Testing, Mitigation Design, and Methane Mitigation Construction requirements.

Real Estate and LADBS Methane Testing

Suppose you are looking to purchase a home, and it appears your home is in the methane zone or methane buffer zone. In that case, conducting a Methane soil gas test is highly recommended. Methane testing must be done to determine the susceptible mitigation requirements to be reflected in the methane mitigation design.

Moving into a newly constructed home may not require any methane mitigation processes due to the new methods utilized in the construction. However, if you decide to implement any supplemental structure in the future, LADBS will require the entire Methane mitigation process. This needs to be accounted for in your budget.

As a real estate agent representing an owner, it is a part of your due diligence to disclose that a property is in the methane zone. I would also like to include providing your client with a Methane test proposal, so they know what it will take to categorize their project’s Methane test level. You may tell us that no methane mitigation components are required at first hand, but upon or in any future construction, it can be expected, and the test results will be documented.

Significance for due diligence disclosure

As a result of the Ross Stores explosion in 1985, Methane Mitigation Construction is now strictly driven by the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety; all succeeding projects have to consider the possible components of methane mitigation from a safety perspective. This is strictly from a preventative explosion approach rather than a health perspective; this is why the Department of Building and Safety is involved strenuously in this process, not the Los Angeles Health Department.

If a client asks for the advantages or the disadvantages from a health perspective, the methane test results can be provided to a health professional for evaluation. A health professional will further analyze the risk of exposure to the methane concentrations measured during the methane soil gas test. If it is concluded that the level of methane concentration can harm the structure and the occupants, it is always possible to implement a retroactive Methane mitigation system. Asking your methane mitigation consultant for a quote on this would be a good approach from a real estate acquisition perspective.

What are the LADBS standards for Methane Tests?

The Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety Methane Hazard Mitigation code provides standards for conducting Methane testing. A company must be certified as a licensed LADBS Methane Testing Laboratory to conduct a Methane test.

A strenuous licensing process is required to be qualified as a Certified Methane Testing Agency. This is to ensure accuracy and objectivity in the Soil vapor test results. It is common for unlicensed methane testing companies to offer services that provide methane test reports, which LADBS will not accept. That’s why if a methane test is required for your project, you must ensure the methane soil gas report is prepared by a consultant or a company listed on the LADBS Methane Testing Agency.

Additionally, the methane testing process needs to be conducted and overlooked by a licensed professional engineer. The standard LADBS Methane testing process will initiate by drilling at least two boreholes 20 feet below the lowest level of the foundation of a structure.

Methane probes are placed at 5-, 10- and 20-foot depths, and methane concentrations are measured for two consecutive days. The quality and depth of boreholes may change depending on the scope of work and the property size. LADBS also requires direct push drilling to be implemented by the ASTM standards.

This process requires a specialty drill rig and the high-level skills of the drillers.

If the engineering company is inexperienced, it will implement rotary drilling techniques to reduce the methane test cost and maximize its profit margins. But these drilling methods are not recommended by the ASTM because the resulting soil disruption can affect the accuracy of the results of the methane test, making the results invalid or unreliable.

The gas analyzer used in the methane testing process, consisting of either infrared or catalytic sensors, must also be approved by the LADBS. Each sensor type provides information that allows the consultant to specify which will be used for specific subsurface conditions. The model, make, and year must also be included in the report submitted to the LADBS. The LADBS also requires calibration of this methane testing equipment to lower the chance of error. The frequency of calibration depends on the manufacturer of the equipment. 

Historical methods for drilling will significantly reduce costs, but these drilling methods are no longer approved and are unauthorized by the LADBS. It’s crucial to ask methane testing consultants what drilling method they will use. Often, consultants will reduce costs and provide lowball bids to win projects.

What do I need to know for an LADBS Methane Soil Gas Test?

The LADBS Methane Testing Standards must conduct methane testing. There are three steps to the Methane Mitigation Process within the LADBS jurisdiction.

1. Methane Soil Gas Testing –

Methane Testing consists of a licensed LADBS testing laboratory performing an on-site field discovery in which multiple boreholes are drilled using direct push drilling technology throughout the property. Triple nested vapor probes are placed according to the LADBS Methane Testing procedures. The licensed testing laboratory must extract methane concentrations using a methane detector certified by LADBS. Generally, two types of methane detectors are approved, catalytic and infrared. Each of these measuring technologies has advantages and disadvantages, but it is essential to ensure that the Methane Testing equipment is certified for application by LADBS.

2. Methane Mitigation Design –

The results of the methane test will drive the methane mitigation requirements for a project. The LADBS code will categorize a project as methane hazard levels 1 through 5. Level 5 methane zone projects are considered high risk and will inherently require extensive methane mitigation components. At a minimum, the vapor mitigation component will include a sub-slab depressurization system and a methane vapor barrier. The mitigation requirements for high-risk areas will consist of fans and sensors, actively monitoring the sub-slab and the lowest space for possible methane accumulation.

A licensed engineer must prepare the methane mitigation design and will provide direction and specifications for the mitigation system. This design will ultimately need to be processed through an LADBS plan check and will need to be built during construction. The scope of work will reflect the mitigation requirements outlined in the LADBS Code based on the methane test level.

3. Methane Mitigation Construction must be built according to the Methane Mitigation Design.

Implementing the Vapor Mitigation system will typically require the participation of various trades. The nature of Environmental Mitigation systems requires Concrete Contractors, Rebar Contractors, Plumbers, and Electricians to work together to build the methane mitigation system. Plumbers are typically hired to install the Sub Slab system and Vent Riser installation. Concrete contractors will typically take on the task of installing the gravel or sand blanket that is required. The electrician will install the conduit seals and active system components if specified in the methane mitigation design. The Methane Mitigation Contractor will be responsible for establishing the methane barrier. During the methane mitigation system installation, it is essential to ensure that your specialty contractor is coordinating with a particular Methane Deputy Inspector. The Methane Deputy Inspector will need to be onsite continuously during the installation of the methane barrier and periodically for the Sub Slab Ventilation system.

Who Should I Hire to Conduct My LADBS Methane Test?

LADBS Methane Tests are a specialty subsurface evaluation that LADBS outlines in the Methane Testing Standards. To conduct a Methane Test, you must be a licensed LADBS testing laboratory and hold a professional engineering license. With this said, only some people can run a Methane Test. The process is stringent. LADBS is rightfully diligent in confirming that the Methane Test was complete per the code requirements. When hiring a Methane Mitigation Consultant to conduct a Methane Test, you should always ask for the LADBS Test Laboratory License Number. This number should be referenced with the LADBS website to confirm that the Methane Mitigation Consultant’s License Number is active and current.

What happens if I hire an unlicensed Methane Testing Company for my methane test?

For a Methane Soil Gas Test to be approved by LADBS, it must be conducted by a Licensed Testing Laboratory. As well as supervised by a Professional Engineer. Some consultants will try to work these Methane Soil Gas Tests without getting licensure from LADBS. Please be aware of the possibility, always verify the license number and status of the methane consultant you are hiring. If the unfortunate case of an unlicensed testing laboratory is submitted for plan check, it will indeed be flagged. LADBS Building Plan Checkers have processes to verify that the certificate of compliance is correctly filled out. That the methane soil gas data were tabulated following the LADBS Testing standard.

When hiring a Methane Consultant, and when the methane test results are received. It is essential to review the Certificate of Compliance for Methane Testing Data. This is a standard LADBS document that will outline the pertinent information for the Methane Soil Gas Tests. Including the field testing laboratory that conducted the test along with the responsible professional engineer who overlooked the test. During plan check if it is found that in unlicensed laboratory conducted a test, results are void and another version of the test results will need to submit.

Do I have to conduct a Methane Test if I’m doing construction in the Los Angeles Methane Zone?

Methane Testing requirements will automatically be a rule by LADBS if you are planning new construction. Also if you are located within the Methane zone or Methane Buffer Zone. The location of Methane Zone has establishment by LADBS. It’s usually based upon the location of historical or existing Oil Wells. The action of conducting a test is entirely the responsibility and the decision making of the property owner. In some rare cases it may be more feasible and cost-effective to not conduct a methane test. But how does this work with LADBS?

Technically it is impossible to not consider the methane hazard classification for a project. However, you do have the option of assuming the worst-case scenario by accepting the level 5 methane gas hazard level. The repercussions of this will reflect on the mitigation requirements during the design phase. Which will ultimately  implement during construction. Based off the LADBS methane code this will lead to requirements of active ventilation systems along with active monitoring.

Furthermore, Sway Features can confidently establish that 99% of commercial projects benefit from conducting a soil gas Methane test. This is to see what the mapping test levels and the corresponding mitigation requirements will be. This is because the corresponding Mitigation Costs between Level 1 and Level 5 are significant.

Single-family dwellings and their accessory dwelling units are an entirely different story.

The LADBS requirements specifically have exceptions for single-family dwellings and their accessories. Essentially active system components may mitigate based off the implementation. The design criteria of a more robust Passive Sub slab Methane Mitigation System. It takes a design professional to analyze the codes requirements. To establish what the methane mitigation design would look like. It’s the design professional responsibility to proficiently outline the methane mitigation requirements. Along with the LADBS Methane Code requirements for the LADBS Plan Checker. For small projects such as an accessory dwelling unit, it may be beneficial to skip the Methane Testing Process. Have your Methane Mitigation Consultant prepare a Methane Mitigation Design assuming the worst case scenario for the Methane Gas Hazard.

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