Got Gas? What To Do If You Smell Gas Inside Your Home

If you smell gas in your home…then you just might have a problem. You likely have a gas leak. I’m not referring to gasoline here but I’ll suggest (with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek) that if you smell gasoline inside the living space of your home, then you might want to consider parking your car outside or in the garage. Seriously, though, the smell of gas inside your home is no laughing matter.

Gas is used as a fuel to operate many different systems in modern homes. Gas is most often used by systems that heat the home such as furnaces and boilers. Gas-fired waters heaters are very common. It can be used as a fuel for cooking such as with ranges or cook-tops, for fireplaces to provide heat or for decoration, and for other uses e.g. clothes dryers. It is, after all, an efficient fuel and is readily available in some form in most geographical locations. Two types of gas are in common residential use…natural gas and Liquefied Propane (LP) gas. Each has its own properties and each is unique in various ways. Let’s examine the two different types of gas.

Natural gas is a carbon-based fossil fuel that is typically piped directly into a home by a public utility operator. It is lighter than air which means that, if it leaks, it will readily dissipate into the atmosphere.

LP gas is also a carbon-based fossil fuel. It has more available energy per unit measure than does natural gas and it is readily able to turn to a liquid state. LP gas is heavier is approximately 1.5 times heavier than air…which means that, if it should leak, it sinks to the floor or grade level and will collect in low areas (more on that later).

It is worthy of note that, in their natural states (conditions), both natural gas and LP gas are virtually odorless. To enable people being able to readily detect gas leakage (using their nose), processors of both products add a chemical called Methyl Mercaptan to the gas mixture. Methyl Mercaptan has been described as smelling like something akin to rotten cabbage or rotten eggs. Listen up…this is important! If you smell rotten cabbage, and you’re pretty sure you don’t have any rotten cabbage lying around, then that odor should cause an instantaneous alarm to go off inside your head. If you suspect that there’s a gas leak inside your home, there are some things you need to do…and quickly. There are also a few things not to do.

Things NOT To Do:

• Panic…you’re well-being depends on you keeping a clear head and systematically doing what you need to do in a timely manner. If you freak out as soon as you smell gas, you won’t be thinking clearly

• Light a match or cigarette lighter…this may seem like a no-brainer but, well, it has happened and the results weren’t pretty

• Do not operate any electric devices to include light switches, appliances, or your even your hard-wired telephone…any potential for any electrical spark should be completely avoided

• Don’t connect or disconnect any electric cords from power outlets…this could also create a spark

Things To Do:

• If the odor is strong, round up all living creatures that you love…spouse, kids, Grandma and Grandpa, Fido, cats, birds, etc. (the fish will probably be alright assuming no explosion…in which case the fish probably won’t be the primary concern anyway)…and leave the house immediately

• If the odor isn’t very strong, then you could consider opening a window or two, on your way out the door, to allow some fresh air to dilute the concentration of gas in the air

• If you are at all technically inclined and know where and how to do so…and you should know…then turn off the gas supply at the main valve. The main gas valve is usually located at the gas meter in the case of natural gas or at the tank in the case of LP gas

• From your cell phone, or from a neighbor’s phone, call the gas company or gas supplier. Particularly in the case of natural gas, the utility company often has a 24 hour emergency phone number that you can call and many LP gas suppliers have such an emergency number as well. It is recommended that this number be kept in a readily available and accessible location.

Remember my mentioning that LP gas is heavier than air? And that it will collect in low areas or spaces? I believe this deserves just a little bit more emphasis. Because of the fact that LP gas will collect in low areas, it’s imperative that you be specifically cognizant of that fact. For instance, if your home has a basement, and there is gas leakage in that area, then the gas can collect in sump pits or other low areas where ventilation isn’t readily accomplished and there are normally some types of electrical devices down in the basement. We already established that gas and electric sparks aren’t a good combination. No need to be scared…just be cognizant. There is a reason, a very good reason, why an LP gas tank isn’t allowed to be stored in the hull of a boat…it’s because the hull of a boat could fill with gas and be ignited resulting in another one of those situations where the outcome just isn’t pretty. Again, be smart…be educated…be cognizant…be aware.

As a Raleigh Home Inspector, and during the performance of any given Raleigh Home Inspection (of homes that are served by gas, of course), our clients have often confided that they are afraid of gas; I can’t tell you just how often that fear has been shared with me. My answer, always, is that there’s no reason whatsoever to fear gas. However…gas should be respected; in fact,. gas demands your respect. One should only be scared, though, if they are under-educated and under-prepared. Insofar as gas is concerned, respect necessarily includes a couple of basic related tenets of general safety.

First, be educated. It is important to properly maintain any and all gas-fired appliances…the equipment on the market today is designed, tested, and approved for that fuel. If the equipment is well-maintained, by professionals in accordance with the manufactures recommendations, it should provide safe and problem-free service with respect to any fuel-related issues.

Second, be prepared. It is of the utmost import that you be educated about the potential safety related issues of any of the complex systems and appliances in your home…that just makes good common sense, wouldn’t you agree? Just like it’s wise to have a formal safety/evacuation plan in place in case of a fire, it’s also smart have a plan for what you will do if you smell gas in the home and be ready to execute that plan at any time. It is recommended that all occupants of the home participate in a practice drill to ensure that the plan is effective when put into action. It is said that practice makes perfect…and you know that it does. You’ll want your plan to be as close to perfectly executed as possible and that means that it needs to practiced and rehearsed.

In conclusion…you should know how to identify a gas leak and know what you are going to do should you smell gas inside your home.You should be knowledgeable about all of the gas-fired equipment in your home, be respectful of the fuel without being afraid of it, and have a formal and readily executable plan in case your built-in olfactory sensory, gas detection, and alarm system (that being the more or less prominent protrusion on the front of your face) ever detects the odor of gas inside you home. You’ll feel confident and secure that you are prepared for what could be an emergency. Your life…and the safety of your loved ones…may very well depend on it!