Methane Gas Soil Testing in Los Angeles
Methane Soil Gas Testing is required by LADBS if your project is located within a Methane Zone. Methane Testing is an environmental engineering process that requires certification by the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety (LADBS), and Professional Engineering Licensure by the State of California. The Methane Test process must follow the LADBS Site Testing Standards for Methane. During the process of the conducting a methane test, several measurements are recorded and various locations, but the LADBS code requires the Methane Testing Agency to categorize the Methane Site Design Level based on the highest recorded concentration of Methane.
Sway Features has provided the below list of key questions that should be asked to all Methane Testing Consultants during the request of proposal for a Methane Test:
Methane Soil Testing - What to Ask!
How long will this Methane Test take?
Are you licensed LADBS Methane Testing Agency?
What drilling method will be used for this soil test?
Methane Testing Cost and Scheduling
The cost of methane testing will vary depending on the scope of work, which is defined base on the LADBS Methane Testing Standards. Based on the LADBS standards, the minimum testing criteria is based on a land size of 20,000 SqFt, this will require a direct push drilling crew to be onsite to place methane gas probes to 20 feet below the lowest level at two locations within the property.
Historically, there have been few consultants that provide Methane Testing Services in the Los Angeles area. The absence of competition resulted in high cost of Methane Testing services. In recent years, the number of Licensed Methane Test Agencies has significantly increased. This introduction of competition has resulted in a continuous decline in the methane testing cost. 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, borehole drilling, gas probe placement, and complete methane concentration recordings. The second day of testing will consist of methane concentrations measurements along with borehole abandonment.
The scope of work and scheduling 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 shallow borehole locations. Verifying the scope with the Environmental Consultant is recommended to ensure that you can schedule accordingly.
Licensed LADBS Methane Testing Agency
LADBS has established strict requirements to be qualified as a Certified Methane Testing Agency. Often times unlicensed companies will offer Methane testing services, but once LADBS reviews the results, they will not accept the Methane Test Report unless the Report is prepared by a consultant that is listed on the LADBS Methane Testing Agency, companies must be on this list to ensure that LADBS will accept the Soil Gas Report.
The instruments used for methane testing must be approved by LADBS, the gas analyzer can consist of either infrared or catalytic sensors. Each sensor type has measuring characteristics which include minimum/maximum detectable concentrations and accuracy that allow the consultant to specify which will be used for specific subsurface conditions. It is important to request that the model, make, and year be included in the report which will be submitted to LADBS. Each gas analyzer company has recommended frequency for calibration, LADBS requires the methane testing equipment to be calibrated before every project to ensure that the possibility of error is minimized.
Environmental Direct Push Drilling
Direct push drilling methodology is advanced in a similar action to pushing a nail into a piece of wood with a hammer. A direct pushed 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 along with the skill level required by the drillers.
ASTM has established standards for environmental drilling, specifying direct push drilling as the recommend drilling method. Inexperienced environmental engineering companies will utilize rotary drilling techniques to reduce cost of the methane test and to maximize their profit margins. Utilizing 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 that is 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 ground surface when doing so it is possible to unintentionally damage, gas, water, electrical or sewage pipes.
The Underground Service Alert of Southern CA (DigAlert) is a non-profit corporation that is funded by utility members to promote the safety during the drilling or excavation in southern California. It is legally required to contact DigAlert prior to conducting a methane Test. The DigAlert team will mark all underground utilities with chalk paint it ensures that you are taking the preventative measures to reduce the possibility of destruction to existing underground utilities.
Often, it is difficult to locate underground utilities because of large areas which have unpredictable utility line routings. In these cases, LADBS may require you to hire a third-party to conduct ground penetrating radar to ensure that all borehole locations are being cleared. To ensure there are no issues with running into underground utilities, always verify with your methane test consultant that they will be identifying and clearing 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 will need to 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 simply is required to establish the extent of mitigation components ranging from passive systems 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 in regard to the methane mitigation design for a project. On simple projects, a plan checker may permit the submittal of the LADBS Standard Plans for the methane mitigation design.
Although the LADBS plan checker will except the standard plans, it is not recommended to move forward with this direction. The LADBS standard plans do not provide the information that is required to construct mitigation systems. During Methane Membrane Construction there will be a lack of information and instruction for the contractor, leading to confusion and delays. Often times developers who initially decided to use the Standard plans regret his decision, and end up hiring 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, this means that 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. There is a high risk of hydrocarbons such as methane vapor, radon, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) 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 are going to be outlined on the Methane Mitigation design and ultimately implemented in the construction.
The methane test results categorize your project using the levels of methane testing, which can vary between Levels 1 and Levels 5, five being the greatest. The number of criteria depends on the level. If your methane test results are in Level 5, there will be more mitigation requirements compared to a project categorized in Level 1. LADBS will rarely prevent the construction of a project due to high methane concentrations; rather, you’ll need to 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.
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 cases, a Methane Mitigation Consultant and the LADBS plan checker must evaluate the project-specific details to establish 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 comes up that your home is located in the methane zone or methane buffer zone. In that case, it is highly recommended to conduct a Methane soil gas test. 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 construction 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 who is representing an owner, it is a part of your due diligence to disclose that a property is in the methane zone. This disclosure must also include providing your client with a Methane test proposal so they have an idea of what it will take for them to categorize the Methane test level of their project. You may advise that there are no methane mitigation components required at first hand, but upon or in any future construction, it can be expected, and the test results will be documented.
As a result of the Ross Store 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, and 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 concentrations of methane that are measured during the methane soil gas test. If in the case it is concluded that the level of methane concentration can harm the structure and the occupants, it is always a possibility 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. In order to, conduct a Methane test, a company needs to be certified as a licensed LADBS Methane Testing Laboratory.
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 make sure that 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 a minimum of two boreholes 20 feet Below the lowest level of the foundation of a structure.
Methane probes are then placed at 5-, 10- and 20-feet 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 size of the property. LADBS also requires direct push drilling to be implemented in accordance with the ASTM standards.
This process requires a specialty drill rig and high-level skills of the drillers. If the engineering company is inexperienced, they will implement rotary drilling techniques to reduce the cost of the methane test and to maximize their 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, which can consist 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 be using. Often, consultants will reduce costs and provide lowball bids to win projects.
What do I need to know for a LADBS Methane Soil Gas Test?
Methane testing must be conducted in accordance with the LADBS Methane Testing Standards. 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 in accordance to the LADBS Methane Testing procedures. The license testing laboratory is then required to extract methane concentrations using a methane detector that is certified by LADBS. Generally, there are two types of methane detectors that are certified, catalytic and infrared. Each of these has measuring technologies has its advantages and disadvantages, but it is important to ensure that the Methane Testing equipment is certified for the 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 level 1 through 5. Level 5 methane zone projects are considered high risk and will inherently require extensive methane mitigation components. The vapor mitigation component will at minimum include a sub-slab depressurization system along with a methane vapor barrier. For high risk areas, the mitigation requirements will include fans and sensors which will be actively monitoring the sub slab and lowest space for possible methane accumulation. The methane mitigation design must be prepared by a licensed engineer and will provide direction and specifications for the mitigation system. This design will ultimately need to be processed through LADBS plan check, and will need to be built during construction. The scope of work will reflect the mitigation requirements that are outlined in the LADBS Code based on the methane test level.
3. Methane Mitigation Construction must be built in accordance to the Methane Mitigation Design. The implementation of 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 on the methane mitigation design. The Methane Mitigation Contractor will be responsible for installing the methane barrier. During the installation of the methane mitigation system, it is important to verify that your specialty contractor is coordinating with a special 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?
What happens if I hire an unlicensed Methane Testing Company to do my methane test?
In order for a Methane Soil Gas Test to be approved and accepted by LADBS, it needs to be conducted by a Licensed Testing Laboratory and supervised by a Professional Engineer. Some consultants will try to conduct these Methane Soil Gas Test without receiving licensure from LADBS, so it is important to be aware of the possibility and always verify the license number and status of the methane consultant that you are hiring. If the unfortunate case of a an unlicensed testing laboratory is submitted for plan check, it will surely be flagged. LADBS Building Plan Checkers have processes to verify that the certificate of compliance is correctly filled out and that the methane soil gas data was tabulated in accordance with the LADBS Testing standard. When hiring a Methane Consultant, the moment the methane test results are receive it is important 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, the test results are void and another version of the test results will be required to be submitted.
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 required by LADBS if you are planning new construction and you are located within the Methane zone or Methane Buffer Zone. The location of Methane Zone is established by LADBS and is 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 be implemented during construction. Based off the LADBS methane code this will lead to requirements of active ventilation systems along with active monitoring.
Based off the above Sway Features can confidently establish that 99% of commercial projects benefit from conducting a soil gas Methane test 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 can be mitigated based off the implementation and the design criteria of a more robust Passive Sub slab Methane Mitigation System. It takes a design professional to analyze the codes requirements and 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. Considering the above, in some cases, for small projects such as an accessory dwelling unit, it may be beneficial to skip the Methane Testing Process, and have your Methane Mitigation Consultant prepare a Methane Mitigation Design assuming the worst case scenario for the Methane Gas Hazard.