Gas leaks – once you smell it at home, panic ensues… and for a good reason.
So many dangers are associated with it, and the unfortunate thing is, a lot have fallen victim to it. In fact, more than 33,000 injuries were reported back in 2009 that can be attributed to gas leaks.
Not only that, hundreds are dying every year due to carbon monoxide poisoning, with an annual average of 600 to 700 deaths. And, there are still no signs of these figures letting up.
On this page:
- What Causes a Gas Leak?
- Dangers of a Gas Leak
- How to Tell if There is a Gas Leak: Detection is Key!
- Symptoms of Natural Gas Poisoning
- What Does a Gas Leak Smell Like?
- How to Tell if Your Stove is Leaking Gas
- What to Do if You Smell Gas in Your House
- Who to Call If You Smell Gas in Your House
- Installing a Gas Leak Detector
- How Do I Prevent Gas Leaks?
- House Smells Like Gas, But No Leak
Scary, isn’t it?
What further complicates matters is the fact that gas is invisible, and we only discover the leak when we smell it.
Or worse, when we start feeling its harmful effects.
Fortunately, this is an avoidable situation. And if you experience it at home, you still have a high chance of survival.
That is, if you know what to do.
If you want to keep you and your family safe from all this, continue reading. We will discuss why gas leaks happen, how to find out if it is present in your home, what you should do to prevent it, and why you need to take it seriously.
Having the proper knowledge about it can save not just homes but more importantly, lives.
What Causes a Gas Leak?
You might think it happens out of the blue, but the truth is, gas leaks don’t just happen randomly. In fact, they only occur because of faulty appliances and connections inside and outside your home.
To be precise, gas leaks that occur in your home happen not only because you accidentally left your stove open, but also because of:
- Cracks or breaks in the gas pipe due to being struck or normal wear and tear
- Loose fittings
- Your gas-powered appliances, such as your cookers or heaters, are old and starting to break down
- Improper ventilation
A surprising fact is that gas leaks occur more often outside the house. However, the open environment of your yard helps immediately dissipate the leaking gas, making it harder to discover any gas leak present. Gas leaks outside your home are the result of the gas pipes being damaged by:
- Being accidentally struck, usually during construction work
- Corrosion due to age or as a result of a nearby water line breaking
- Damage brought about by extreme weather
- Seals that have loosened up
In sum, the age and conditions of your gas-powered appliances and their fittings, not just human error or negligence, will contribute to the occurrence of gas leaks.
Dangers of a Gas Leak
Natural gas, per se, is not dangerous. In reality, it is actually a much cleaner and safer source of fossil fuel compared to wood, oil, or coal. But, it does not mean it is never harmful.
We know that gas leaks have the potential to cause injury and fatal consequences, but what exactly are the dangers that we might face when it happens?
Two things: gas leaks can cause either explosions or health issues.
Most of us are already familiar with the risk of explosion. We know that natural gas is flammable, and even a small spark can trigger an explosion. And the more gas confined in a space, the bigger the explosion.
Be thankful if you only experience a short burst of fire, as gas leaks are known to cause huge explosions that blow off entire homes.
And if you think these only happen in the kitchen, you’re mistaken. They can also occur in your basement because of your gas-powered water heater or furnace. It’s something a lot of homeowners discover too late when their house has been blown apart.
The health effects of gas leaks are something a lot of us are unfamiliar with, especially because we usually attribute the symptoms to something else. We think we just caught the bug, but we fail to realize that what we are feeling are the effects of being exposed to gas.
In a later section, you will discover its specific symptoms and health effects. But, it is important to know this first – if left unresolved, gas leaks can cause suffocation, and then death.
Whether you experience an explosion in your home or health issues, the worst-case scenario is always death.
How to Tell if There is a Gas Leak: Detection is Key!
While death that can be attributed to gas leaks is possible, it does not mean that it is a certainty for anyone exposed to gas. All the gas leak-related dangers are avoidable, and the secret to that? Early detection.
It is a very challenging task to do so, because gas is an invisible substance, but it is not impossible. In fact, you can find out if you have a possible gas leak at home through these methods, without needing any special equipment to do so:
Inside Your Home
- Smelling its signature sulfuric scent
- Sounds on the gas line or on gas-powered appliances, particularly whistling or hissing
- Visible damage on gas lines or pipes
- Presence of bubbles when doing the bubble test on gas pipes, connections, or lines (wipe a suspected area with a sponge or cloth dipped in a mixture of dishwashing soap and water. Gas is leaking if bubbles are formed afterwards)
- Experiencing flu-like symptoms, as well as the ones we mentioned in the previous section
- Increase in your gas bills for no reason
- Your gas detectors alert you of its presence
- Flames on your gas stove remain yellow or orange, not blue, even if it has been switched on for some time. Normally, orange flames should only appear immediately when you switch on your stove and quickly turn blue afterwards
- Pilot light of your water heater or gas stove keeps blowing out
- Black burn marks or soot on the outside of a gas-powered appliance, especially near the gas line or fittings
- Too much condensation present in your gas that you have no clue what caused it
Outside Your Home
- Fog or white haze or mist appears near a gas pipe or line
- Plants start wilting or die. While it is common to see sick or dead plants anywhere, you should be aware that a gas leak can be the cause why there are dead patches of plants in a spot surrounded by healthy ones
- There are flames that seem to come shooting up from the ground
- If a spot on your yard remains dry, even if you just watered every inch of it
Symptoms of Natural Gas Poisoning
It has been established that gas leaks can cause harm not just because it is a combustible substance but because it is also considered toxic.
When you start being exposed to gas in small doses, you may begin exhibiting the following symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing when doing physical activities
Did you notice how those symptoms are very much common to other illnesses, such as the flu? This, along with lack of knowledge on what to look out for, makes detecting gas leaks difficult for most homeowners.
And if unbeknownst to you, you continue exposing yourself to gas, you can experience:
- Irritated eyes or throat
- Feeling of sluggishness or constant fatigue
- Blurred vision
- Chest pains
- Stuffy nose
- Memory problems and confusion
- Issues with motor skills and coordination
When there is prolonged exposure, you subject yourself to dangerously high levels of the gas that can start lessening your chances of survival. To be precise, severe natural gas exposure:
- Makes breathing difficult, until he or she experiences asphyxia or oxygen loss
- Causes the victim to faint and lose consciousness
- If not treated soon, death is inevitable
Also, check if it is actually natural gas or carbon monoxide poisoning, particularly if you exhibited many of these symptoms above but fail to smell the scent of gas. They have similar symptoms, but carbon monoxide poisoning is more dangerous, owing to the fact that it is a silent killer. That is, you cannot rely on your sense of smell to detect the presence of carbon monoxide, unlike natural gas that has a distinct smell.
But no matter what the cause is, always get first aid once you start experiencing any of those symptoms.
What Does a Gas Leak Smell Like?
In its original state, natural gas is odorless. Unbelievable, isn’t it? How is this so, when we all know that gas has a distinct smell that alerts us of its presence?
The truth is, the smell of gas that we are familiar with is artificially made. This is because gas companies add a chemical known as ‘mercaptan’ to the gas. Mercaptan is an odorant, but is considered non-toxic and without any effect on the natural gas itself, save for making it foul-smelling.
On its own, mercaptan has a very strong smell that in high amounts, stinks so bad anyone who smells it will wish they can remove their noses. This is why only a small amount is added to natural gas – just enough to make leaks detectable.
Natural gas, when already combined with a small amount of mercaptan, has a sulfuric smell. If you ever smelled rotten eggs, that is exactly the scent of gas leaking.
Without it, there is no way of finding out that you have a gas leak at home until someone falls ill or an explosion or fire happens. Gas detectors may be around, but people will usually smell the gas first before gas detectors go off.
How to Tell if Your Stove is Leaking Gas
One of the challenges when it comes to gas leaks is finding out where it is coming from. Since you can’t see gas, you have to rely mostly on your sense of smell to discover where the gas leak may be coming from.
If a gas leak is likely because you smell its signature scent, especially if the stench is unbearable for anyone, you need to prioritize everyone’s safety above everything else. This also means getting professionals involved.
But if the smell is not that strong, you can confirm a gas leak yourself. In particular, you can do so with your stove. Here is what you need to do:
- If it is connected to an oven, open its and check if the gas smell is a lot stronger inside. If so, the issue is often with the valve controls and the gas is leaking from your stove’s burners
- Inspect and smell the burners of your stove. If you catch a whiff of the gas smell over any of them, the valve may be the issue.
- For stoves, or any other appliance powered by gas, that can be removed, check their connections. Remove them first from where they are placed and compare the strength of the gas scent behind the stove to other sections of your kitchen. If it is stronger at the back of your appliance, you likely have a leak in the connections
- Keep an ear out for any hissing sounds
If you highly suspect that a leak is present, you can narrow down the problematic part of your stove by checking the following components:
- Flex pipe used to connect the cut-off valve to the stove
- Cut-off valve itself
- Each control valve of your burners, oven, broiler, etc.
- Connections of your pilot light
- Internal pipes of your oven
- Thermostatic controlled valve
Leaks involving your stove is limited to those components, that is why it can be easy to determine where a gas leak on your stove is coming from.
What to Do if You Smell Gas in Your House
There are so many scents that never belong in any home. The waft of sewage, rotting garbage, dead animals… nobody wants to smell these pungent odors at any time. But, these scents can only be considered an annoyance that does not really cause any harm, except to your sense of smell.
The smell of gas, on the other hand, is not just an annoyance but more importantly, life-threatening. This is why knowing what to do once you discover its unmistakable scent is vital; a single misstep can have drastic effects to not just on you and your family, but also your neighbors.
If you think there is a possibility of a leak inside your home because you smell it, here are the things you need to do:
- Remain calm. Panicking can just make matters worse
- If you immediately smell it before stepping foot inside your home, don’t attempt to go inside
- But if you got inside before you smelled the gas, never switch on your lights or any electrical appliance, or even plug in one, as an electrical spark is enough to cause an explosion
- Do not use your phones, both mobile and landline
- If there is an open flame anywhere, quickly snuff it out before gas reaches it
- Avoid lighting up a cigarette or smoking in the vicinity of your home
- Open all windows and doors to ventilate your home to allow gas to dissipate and let fresh air in, but never use any fans or your HVAC system to do so.
- Switch off your gas supply meter
- Evacuate your entire household, including your pets, especially if you are unable to ventilate your home and the gas scent is too strong for you to do any safety measures above
- If the leak originates from your gas lines in your yard, leave and get it checked out by professionals asap
- Inform your neighbors about the potential leak to keep them alert and ready for any possible effects or scenarios
Even if you were able to manage to do most of the safety measures above, or you believe that the gas leak is minimal, you should always get it checked out by your gas utility provider asap.
Gas leaks should never be fixed by anyone not trained to do so. Only the pros can do so and make sure that they were completely resolved.
Never leave it to chance by trying it the DIY way if you have no idea what to do.
Who to Call If You Smell Gas in Your House
If you find yourself facing the unfortunate scenario of having a gas leak in your home, you always have to get the services of a professional, not just to resolve it but also to make sure that there is a very slim chance of it happening again.
But, who should you approach?
The moment you smell gas inside or outside your home, you need to contact the emergency services asap. But, only do so when you are some distance away from your home, as using your phone in the area where gas is present ups the risk of an explosion.
Emergency services know how to deal with these incidents. They can stop the leak temporarily until a more permanent fix is made, as well as give first aid to anyone who needs immediate medical assistance after being exposed to the gas.
And in case a fire starts or an explosion happens, you also need to call your local fire department. But if you were able to inform the emergency services first, they will coordinate with the fire department instead.
At the same time, you should also get in touch with your gas provider and let them know about what is happening. They can advise you on what you can do to minimize the problem, until someone from the company can come over and do an inspection.
Unless your utility provider will do the fix for you, getting in touch with a gas line plumber is a must. Contrary to popular belief, not all plumbers only work on water lines; there are also plumbers specializing in natural gas lines and their associated appliances and equipment. They are fully capable of repairing gas lines, including fixing any leak present in your home.
Until these professionals have assured you that it is completely safe to enter your home upon the discovery of a gas leak and its subsequent repair, never do so. There is nothing more important than the safety of your entire household in this situation.
Installing a Gas Leak Detector
Have you ever experienced going out, only to keep wondering every now and then if you left your stove switched on? If your answer is yes, you are not alone. So many of us get so distracted with various stuff before rushing out the door that we overlook the basics, such as switching off appliances before leaving.
Having natural gas detectors installed at home assures us that in case a gas leak happens, especially while we are out, we will be alerted and take precautionary measures first to avoid any untoward incidents the moment we enter the house.
There are so many natural gas detectors out on the market, so choose one that will best suit your needs. Budget-friendly options may only tell you the presence of the gas, but not how strong the level is at present, or it may only flash its lights upon discovery of a gas leak and not make any kind of noise to alert you.
You should go for a gas detector that will instantly inform you that a gas leak is present in your home. Beeping sounds are much more noticeable than small flashing lights, and also consider those that indicate the level of gas present in the air.
When getting them installed, make sure that you follow these guidelines:
- Place them away from an open window, as mounting them beside one can cause wrong readings and make it harder to detect a leak
- Install a detector in rooms where appliances powered by gas are present. But, make sure that they are placed some distance away from those appliances, not very near them. Doing so can lead to a lot of false alarms.
- To be precise, natural gas detectors should be mounted at a spot higher than any window or door in that room, but in a spot that is roughly 6 inches away from the ceiling.
- Also, make sure that there is a distance of at least 10 feet between the detector and the gas-powered appliance.
- Keep them away from areas in your room that get high humidity levels, as it can also cause fire alarms.
- Refer to the instruction manuals on what else needs to be done to set it up correctly.
The main issue with gas leak detectors is that the gas needs to reach a certain level before the detectors will start going off. In fact, you can discover a gas leak first with your nose before a detector does. Detectors will just confirm if you do really smell gas or you are just imagining things.
However, they are still handy to have, especially for monitoring their presence while you are gone. And although a bit more expensive, we recommend getting a gas detector that can also detect the presence of carbon monoxide. Gas leaks are dangerous, but it is even more so for carbon monoxide, which does not have any scent at all.
How Do I Prevent Gas Leaks?
They say prevention is better than cure, including gas leaks. Lucky for us, this is an easily preventable problem.
If you experienced a gas leak at home and don’t want to have a part two or it, this section is for you. Or, if you have yet to experience it and never want to, this is also for you.
Don’t DIY Your Way to Installing Gas-Powered Appliances
It is never as simple as plugging them in; these appliances need to be correctly installed to make sure that there are no leaks from the get-go. This is why it is important that such appliances be installed by qualified installers or gas line plumbers only. They will make sure that all gas connections are as secure as they can possibly be.
Maintenance is Key
As a safety precaution, you should regularly check on the condition of your gas-powered appliances, gas lines and pipes. Get them checked out by the same installer or plumber who set up your unit, or any other qualified professional. They can determine whether any of the gas lines need changing, or the parts are starting to show signs of wear and tear and need replacing.
Even if we know our senses can detect gas leaks earlier than gas detectors, it is still a good practice to have them. Detectors are especially helpful when no one is around to determine the presence of leaks by smell or through other signs.
It is always better to be greeted by beeping sounds from your gas leak detector going off than by an explosion or fire the moment you set foot inside your home and turned on the light switch.
Keep an Eye Out for Damage to Your Gas Lines and Connected Appliances
Rust, corrosion, dents, warps, and loose components should always be a cause for concern when it comes to appliances that use gas, as well as the lines and pipes themselves. Any kind of damage on them can result in gas leaks if not immediately resolved.
Get an Earthquake Shut-off Valve Installed
Earthquakes are not only unpredictable, they can also be destructive. Powerful ones can easily cause destruction to your gas lines, and when this happens, leaks will happen. Earthquake shut-off valves will come in handy in such a situation, as it will stop the flow of gas automatically by closing the gas line when it detects a strong tremor.
All these safety precautions are worth it, as it greatly lessens the chance of you and your household having a gas leak in your home and possibly succumbing to its effects.
House Smells Like Gas, But No Leak
When you smell the scent of rotten eggs, but you know that there are no more eggs around because you already ate them all for breakfast, a gas leak is always anyone’s immediate thought.
But, is it always the case?
More often than not, gas leaks are really the culprit for the sulfur stench in your home. But in some cases, it isn’t. Although slim, there is still a possibility that what you are smelling is not a gas leak, but:
- A dead mouse, squirrel, or any other critter
- Any light fixture that became too hot after being used for prolonged periods
- Issue with your circuit board or sockets, particularly when the electric wires get damaged
- A gas leak from a neighbor’s house or nearby facility
- Sewer gas
- Bacteria present on drains
It is easy to mistake the scent of those above for a gas leak, since they have a very similar smell. Hydrogen sulfide in particular, which is produced at decomposition, is known to have a sulfuric smell also.
But even if there is a chance that what you are smelling is not a gas leak, always err on the side of caution and treat it as such. Get a plumber to identify the source of that nasty smell.
If it is not due to a gas leak, that’s good news. But if it is, which is a more likely possibility, your plumber can quickly apply a fix as soon as he or she discovers the source.
We may already sound like a broken record, but we cannot stress this enough: prioritize safety and don’t leave anything to chance when it comes to possible gas leaks inside and outside your home. It can be the deciding factor between a life and death situation.