Natural gas is used in homes and businesses for various heating needs. When properly installed and maintained, natural gas is a reliable and safe utility. However, everyday wear-and-tear or improper use of gas appliances can lead to a leak.
Gas leaks can occur in a variety of locations. Some leaks are easy to identify but not all are as readily apparent. Whether it is within the home or at a place of business, it is important to recognize the symptoms and procedures associated with the signs of a gas leak.
This article will explain the classic signs of a gas leak, what to do if a gas leak is suspected, and preventative measures to avoid future leaks.
What is a Gas Leak?
A natural gas leak occurs when a faulty gas line or appliance leaks natural gas, propane, or carbon monoxide. Gas leaks occur both in and outside of the home or business. Regardless of location, a natural gas leak should be fixed quickly as it poses a danger to individuals, pets, and properties in the immediate area.
What Are Signs of a Gas Leak?
Sulfur or Rotten Egg Smell
A sulfuric or rotten egg smell is the most common and noticeable sign of a natural gas leak. Gas is naturally odorless and colorless; as a precaution utility companies add mercaptan, a harmless chemical, to the system to create the odor.
The exception, where no mercaptan is added, is carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is incompletely burned gas and will have no odor or color; it is only detectable by a carbon monoxide detector. With the exception of carbon monoxide, your nose is the first line of defense against a gas leak.
Dead Patches or Bubbles in Landscaping
Natural gas travels through pipe line systems and utility stations, located near the edge of a property, to be delivered to buildings. These underground pipes, when found inside the property line, are maintained by the building owner. If located outside the property line, these pipes are maintained by a gas company.
Underground leaks can be difficult to identify but there are a couple telltale signs to help you locate them. One is that natural gas kills vegetation. If you see a large patch of browned, wilted, or dead vegetation it could be a sign that gas is leaking nearby. The second, if it has recently rained, look for low spots where water pools. If you see constant bubbling it means there is a gas leak underneath that location.
A hissing sound escaping nearby gas lines is indicative of a big gas leak. If you hear the sound of air (or gas) forcibly leaking out of a pipe, you should follow safety precautions and address the leak immediately.
If you suspect signs of a gas leak in any pressurized system, you can use dish soap, a little water, and a cloth rag to tell if a leak is present. First mix the soap and water together, power on the system, then use a rag to wipe down the pipe with the solution. If done correctly bubbles will form on the location of the leak. Oftentimes, leaks are so small that they are undetectable to your eyes or nose.
The soap test is an easy way to use everyday, household items to test for a gas leak. When identifying potential leaks, look for pipes that have signs of corrosion or a green discoloration. These are common indicators for a potential gas leak.
Physical Signs of a Gas Leak
Continual exposure to natural gas or carbon monoxide will produce physical symptoms and ailments. These symptoms include headache, fatigue, dizziness or nausea, and respiratory problems. The same symptoms may be displayed by your pets which is a good hint that something in the room is causing the ailments.
A telltale difference between exposure to natural gas and carbon monoxide poisoning is when exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning, the individual’s face will flush with color, turning them bright red or pink. Natural gas causes your face to lose its color.
If you or anyone in the building begins to experience the above listed symptoms, take note of the location. If symptoms afflict individuals in a specific location then it may be a signs of a gas leak. Once a gas leak has been suspected everyone should evacuate the building immediately and contact a professional.
Homeowners can contact their local utility company, a licensed plumber, or the fire department if they feel safety is compromised.
Is a Gas Leak Dangerous?
Natural gas leaks can be repaired quickly and safely by a professional plumber. However, unchecked gas leaks, including carbon monoxide poisoning, can pose danger to the individuals nearby.
In addition to physical ailments, natural gas is flammable. It is recommended that you avoid using electrical appliances or starting your car. Instead, if you or someone nearby suspects a gas leak, immediately open the closest windows and leave the premises. Building occupants should take every precaution when dealing with gas leaks.
Once safely outside, homeowners can contact their local utility company or a licensed professional plumber to locate where the signs of a gas leak are occurring to repair the problem.
Who to Call if You Suspect Signs of a Gas Leak?
If you suspect a gas leak, first call your local utility company then call a plumber. Licensed professional plumbers will detect and repair the gas leak, provide permits, and coordinate with the city for final inspections. A utility company will detect if there is a gas leak, but they do not locate the source of the leak or repair it.
How Can Homeowners Prevent Gas Leaks?
Although homeowners do not have control over gas lines, vigilance will go a long way toward preventing gas leaks. Homeowners can perform the following steps to help prevent gas leaks:
If you have children, remind them to avoid hanging on any visible pipelines or playing with the outdoor gas meter. Hanging on a pipeline may cause it to come loose or break, releasing gas into the home. The outdoor gas meter should be kept clear of any debris, such as plants or snow, so it is easily accessible in an emergency.
Be careful when using a gas appliance. Never use them as a source of heat for the room. This can cause carbon monoxide to build within the home. If you need to move any gas appliance, do so carefully to avoid breaking the gas line. Do not pile any objects such as boxes or paint nearby gas appliances. These appliances need oxygen to run properly and any flammable objects piled nearby are hazardous.
If you are digging a hole on your property, be sure to call 811 before digging. This service will inform you where gas lines are located, allowing you to avoid hitting them as you dig.
Homeowners should hire a licensed plumber to perform an annual inspection of their home plumbing systems. Inspection of visual gas lines, gas hookups, and exterior gas connections can help a homeowner stay ahead of any needed gas line repair.
Homeowners should also hire an HVAC specialist to perform annual maintenance on their furnace(s) and air conditioning systems. During annual maintenance, a reputable contractor will perform a complete safety check on the furnace to ensure that no signs of a gas leak are apparent.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
As explained earlier in the article, carbon monoxide is completely odorless and colorless. The only test for it is a carbon monoxide detector. Every home should have carbon monoxide detectors installed at the proper locations. In California, it is a requirement for all single and multi-family residences to have both smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. They are typically sold as a 2-in-1 detector and all new installations must have a 10-year non-serviceable type of detector.
It is recommended that a carbon monoxide detector be placed in close proximity to each bedroom in the home and placed on each floor level of a building. Homeowners should make sure that all gas burning appliances are kept in good condition and checked regularly.
Natural gas is an important utility we use every day to keep our homes and offices warm, our showers hot, and to cook our food. With the daily use of gas, it is understandable it is understandable that over time a leak is bound to occur.
When a leak appears, it is important to know the signs, symptoms, and how to act. Remember to take precautions when handling gas appliances, use the aforementioned signs to identify potential leaks, and call a plumber to have your gas lines regularly inspected and maintained.
IF you suspect signs of a gas leak, or want To schedule plumbing or HVAC maintenance, call Bill Howe at 1-800 BILL HOWE (245-5469).