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Infrastructure: Underground Heating Oil System

From a 2010 interview of Mirrormont developer Rod Loveless

The oil system was unique at that time. A lot of developments had gas underground, and electricity for furnaces, but most places used oil tanks for diesel oil and at that time diesel oil was about 10 cents/gallon. Incredible, when now it’s over $4/gallon. It was quite reasonably priced to heat houses with. I met these people who had a big oil company downtown, one of the biggest in Seattle. They were telling me about this idea they had. It’d been done back east several places where they piped oil underground, just like they pipe in gas. It sounded like a pretty good idea, so we went ahead and contracted with Safe Heat Oil Co., a distributor of oil with offices by the Space Needle. Bud Vaughn was the owner’s name. They took over the oil system idea, installed the pipes and a 10,000-gallon tank on the hill by the water tank in Division I as you come off Tiger Mtn Rd.

The oil system functioned very well throughout Divisions I, II, III & IV. Each house had a meter. Black iron pipes held the oil, and the oil kept them from rusting, but the people who installed them didn’t take into account problems they might have with electrolysis. The gas company has learned that to their dismay too… After a few years, we began losing oil. The first indication was that someone with a well below Mirrormont detected an odor. Obviously, some kind of oil was getting into their water system. Right away we closed off that oil main, and dug down and discovered the pipe had corroded. Electrolysis had made several tiny pinholes, and this was where the oil was leaking out. Well, at 10 cents/gallon it wasn’t too big of a deal. But as the oil price kept going up, the leaks became more of a problem. It eventually got to the point where we had several other areas where there was oil leaking.

The Department of Ecology got involved and called us because of several complaints about the odor of oil, or they could actually see a sheen of oil on water. So they came out and we’d repaired all the problems we had, so we were okay, but we could see this was going to get worse and worse as time went on, and it did. Eventually DOE decided we should take out the oil system. Oil was going up rapidly in price and it wasn’t as attractive as it had been. We worked it out deals with the gas company and several furnace companies and electrical company to get a real inexpensive installation price for converting their furnaces from oil to electricity. Some of them converted to gas, which was the easiest thing to do and some converted to electricity. So we were able to close the oil system down. In the early days, Bud Vaughn became disenchanted with operating the oil system, and we bought it from him, and we called it Pipeline Systems. I think he had realized that this electrolysis was going to be a continuing problem and that was one of the reasons I think he sold it to us. But we operated it for quite a few years and then we shut it down and arranged for other types of heat for the houses we built.

Rod Loveless, developer of Mirrormont


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