Honey, I Smell Gas And It’s Not Me

Honey, do you smell gas? I do.A few years ago an explosion of natural gas in Seattle leveled a home and sent the two occupants to the hospital with serious burns.   In this case it was a problem with the gas line.  It could have been a lot worse.  Most of the time, we think of natural gas as a convenient and efficient method to heat our homes, run our stoves or warm our fireplaces.  However, there are a few safety precautions to be aware of that everyone should take if they suspect a gas leak.


A Gas Emergency


Natural gas in its raw state is both colorless and odorless.  Gas companies add a distinctive “rotten egg” chemical compound to gas so people can be alerted to a potential gas leak.  What should you do if you “smell” gas and it’s not you or the dog?  Take these steps:


Know your gas appliances. Read the warnings in your manuals.

Contact your gas company from a neighbor’s house if you’re unsure what to do.

(1) Mild Odor: If there is only a slight odor of gas, it could mean that your pilot light has gone out.  For a mild odor, open your windows and doors first to allow for good cross ventilation.  While your home is ventilating, do not use or do anything that might create a spark (see 3 below).  If you plan on re-lighting a pilot light yourself, wait at least five minutes to be certain your home has been properly ventilated and you can no longer smell gas.  If the gas smell doesn’t go away, don’t relight the pilot—call the gas company instead.


(2) Strong Odor: A strong odor indicates a potentially more serious problem.  If you notice a strong odor or a slight odor persists gather your family and leave the home immediately!  Once you are safely outside call the gas company from your neighbor’s house.  Leave the door open on the way out.  One other tip:  If you have natural gas in the home, pre-program the emergency contact number for the gas company in your cell phone—But wait to call until you are outside and away from the smell of gas!


Don't hit that light switch.

Don’t risk an explosion. Even turning a lightswitch off or on could cause a spark.

(3) No Sparks: Under no circumstances should you use a telephone, flashlight, match, or turn an electric light switch off or on if you smell gas.  Even a miniscule spark might be enough to ignite it.  It’s far better to call for help from the neighbor’s than risk a potentially serious problem.  Protect yourself and family first.


(4) Medical Attention:  If a victim of a gas emergency is burned or suffers from carbon monoxide poisoning, get them immediate medical attention.



Preparing Ahead To Prevent Accidents


(1) Leave It To A Professional: Be sure to leave the installation, service and repair of gas appliances to professionals.  It’s just not worth the risk to do it yourself.


(2) Know Your Appliances: Make sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions and are familiar with all the warnings for your gas appliances.  If you can’t locate your manual, try looking online—search on the manufacturer’s name, the model number, and “manual” or “instructions”.  Also, have your appliances inspected or have suggested maintenance performed according to the instructions—for example, have your furnace inspected annually.


(3) Clean: Keep chimney flues and vents for all your gas appliances clean and in good repair.  If you suspect a vent is damaged, or may have been infested with insects, birds or other pests, have a professional inspect it.  Also, change filters on your gas furnace regularly to keep it operating safely and efficiently.


(4) No Mess: Avoid stacking or piling materials (especially flammable materials) or other debris near your gas water heater, furnace or other appliances.  Keep these areas clean and accessible.


(5) No Play: Teach your kids not to touch or play with gas appliances.  Young children are often attracted to buttons and knobs.  Make sure they know to stay away from all the gas appliances in your home.


Drill the family until they're all familiar with your emergency gas plan.

Know when to make that call. A phone could create a spark so call from your neighbors.

(6) Drill: Teach family members what to do in an emergency.  Create an emergency plan and practice on occasion by holding a surprise drill.  In particular remind your family not to use anything that might create a spark during the emergency, and have a plan for getting out of the house.  As you exit the home, move slowly and deliberately so as not to create the potential for injury, accident or accidental sparks.  Leave the door open as you leave to allow fresh air to enter the home.  Decide which neighbors you’ll plan to go to in the event of an emergency.  Practice in daylight and nighttime hours.


You May Not Smell It


We should note there are reasons you may not smell leaking natural gas—for example the rotten egg compound in gas can decay under certain conditions, or you may have a cold or allergy preventing you from smelling.  This means if you hear hissing gas around a gas appliance, notice unexplained dirt blowing upward outside, bubbles rising in a puddle, or see an exposed gas pipeline (as would occur in an earthquake) you will also need to get out of your home or the affected area and contact the gas company as soon as possible.


For more tips and other information specific to your locale, contact your local gas company.  Otherwise, check out these sites:

Puget Sound Energy

Southern California Gas Company


If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to read:

The Earthquake Quiz: How Ready Are You?


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