If you are one of the millions of Americans whose home is heated by gas, or you use gas appliances, including a hot water heater, you know it’s safe and cheap.
That said, although rarely do home gas systems suffer a leak, they do happen. As a homeowner with a gas system, you should know how to prevent and detect gas leaks. Doing so can save your family’s lives and possibly your home since a gas leak is also a fire hazard should there be a spark in the house.
How to detect a gas leak
Odor: The scent of gas is usually the most common sign of its presence. A natural gas leak is described as smelling like a rotten egg or sulfur. While pure natural gas is actually odorless, the smell is produced by sulfur-based compounds that are added to the gas to aid in its detection.
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Sound: You may hear a hissing or a blowing, which could be the sound of your gas leaking.
Discoloration: If you have an underground leak, you may notice a yellow or brownish patch on the ground covering the leaking pipe.
Physical: You may feel light-headed, dizzy and/or nauseous, and going outside in fresh air causes the symptoms to subside.
- If you have a strong smell of gas in your home, you should evacuate immediately.
- If you smell gas, do not use light switches, cell phones, lighters, matches, candles, stoves, or anything with an open flame. A flashlight is a safer lighting option.
- Open as many doors and windows as possible to allow air to flow through.
- Check your stove (if it’s gas) to see that all of the burners and the oven are completely shut off. Make sure all dials are pointed at zero.
If you are unable to detect where the leak is coming from, you should find the gas main and shut down the gas. Then you can call the local gas company or a repair service.
Gas leak detectors — If you have any gas lines going into your house, having a gas leak detector is just as important as a smoke detector. The detectors will often detect a leak before you even smell it and it will sound the alarm.
Change the furnace air filter regularly — Filters get clogged with dust over time and this blocks the airflow to your furnace. If the airflow is blocked, it can damage your furnace over time, leading to a leak in your gas line. A small amount of maintenance each month can prevent a much larger problem later on.
Check your gas appliances regularly — Normal wear and tear caused by simple aging can lead to gas leaks. Schedule an annual inspection to bird-dog problem areas before they develop into leaks. Also, if you’ve been through a natural disaster (earthquake, hurricane, etc), you should schedule an inspection.
Remember: Gas leaks are serious business and not something you should try to take care of yourself.