Natural Gas Safety Tips for Your Home
Learn how to detect a natural gas leak in your home and what to do when one occurs.
Natural gas is the world’s cleanest fossil fuel, producing only carbon dioxide, water vapor and small amounts of nitrogen oxide when burned. Natural gas is also used to power a wide range of consumer products, including furnaces, fireplaces, clothes dryers, and stoves. In fact, it’s likely that at least one of your appliances runs on natural gas.
Like almost all sources of energy, natural gas can be dangerous if improperly handled. By following a few simple safety tips (and knowing what to do if you have a gas leak or have been exposed to one), you can keep yourself and your loved ones safe.
Is Natural Gas Safe in the Home?
When used correctly, natural gas is a safe, efficient source of power. Burning natural gas does produce some greenhouse gases, but it is still a greener solution than other fossil fuels. Compare gas vs. wood burning fireplaces or electric vs. gas water heaters to see if gas power is right for your home.
However, natural gas is a flammable material. A natural gas leak in a house can cause potential fires, and inhaling the gas can cause natural gas poisoning. As with electricity, gasoline and other potentially dangerous energy sources, natural gas exposure must be handled with care.
5 Natural Gas Safety Tips: Signs, Symptoms and What to Do When a Gas Leak Occurs
According to the American Gas Association, over 177 million Americans use natural gas in their homes. Following these natural gas safety tips can help you enjoy the benefits of natural gas.
1. Learn how to detect the signs and symptoms of a natural gas leak in your home.
Pipes or appliances powered by natural gas can develop leaks, which can have potentially negative effects. It’s important to be able to identify natural gas leak symptoms and to know what to do if you have a gas leak. If you detect any of the following signs of a natural gas leak in your house or think you have been exposed, contact 911 immediately.
The smell of rotten eggs. In its natural state, natural gas is odorless and colorless. To make gas leaks easier to detect, gas companies add chemicals called odorants to create a natural gas smell similar to sulphur or rotting eggs. The stronger this smell, the more likely it is that you have a gas leak. You may get a slight whiff of this smell when turning on an older gas grill, but most energy-efficient grills made in the last 15 years should not produce an odor.
Hissing sounds. Large gas leaks in pipes or appliances may produce hissing noises, even if the appliance is turned off. Check pipes and appliances regularly, listening for any hissing noises.
Air bubbles outside your home. Natural gas leaks can also occur in underground piping outside the home. If you see bubbles in standing water—including puddles and mud—it may be a sign of natural gas dispersing through the soil and into the surrounding air.
Dead or dying plants. Dead, dying or stunted plants inside or outside your home can be a potential sign of a natural gas leak in your home, especially if you’ve been taking proper care of your plants. The presence of natural gas prevents a plant’s roots from absorbing oxygen and can lead to wilting. Natural gas leaks can also cause smaller-than-normal leaves on trees, wilted plants and yellowish patches of grass.
Physical symptoms of natural gas poisoning. Symptoms of exposure to low levels of natural gas include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, nausea and irregular breathing. High levels of natural gas exposure can cause natural gas poisoning, which is characterized by fatigue, severe headaches, memory problems, loss of concentration, nausea, loss of consciousness, and suffocation. If you believe you’re experiencing natural gas leak symptoms, contact a healthcare professional as soon as possible.
Higher-than-normal gas usage. An increase in the amount of natural gas your home uses can indicate a natural gas leak. Seasonal increases in natural gas use is to be expected when using a gas furnace, but unexplained increases might suggest a leak somewhere in or around your home.
2. Inspect devices and appliances that use natural gas on a regular basis.
Regularly inspecting all devices and appliances that use gas helps prevent and identify possible gas leaks in your house. Read the manufacturer’s instructions for each appliance to understand what to check and how often for safe use.
Common gas-powered appliances include furnaces, electric clothes dryers, water heaters, stoves and electric generators. Most of these appliances have a pilot light, and that’s something for you to check as well. If the appliance has a pilot light, the flame should be small and blue with a yellow tip. Please contact the appliance's manufacturer if you suspect something is wrong with an appliance that has an abnormal or missing pilot light.
3. Keep small children away from sources of natural gas.
Keep small children away from stoves, heaters and other potential exposure sources of natural gas. Teach children how to spot and identify the distinctive natural gas smell, recognize symptoms of natural gas exposure and make sure they know what to do if they think there’s a natural gas leak in the house.
4. Install natural gas and carbon monoxide detectors in your home.
Slow gas leaks may not produce enough natural gas smell to be detectable, and even large leaks may not be detected by people with a diminished sense of smell. For these reasons, it is recommended that homeowners use a natural gas detector to alert them to the presence of natural gas.
Carbon monoxide detectors do not detect natural gas leaks in your home but can alert you when appliances improperly burn natural gas, kerosene or other fossil fuels. For extra safety, consider installing a carbon monoxide alarm like the plug-in Kidde carbon monoxide alarm or the battery-powered Kidde carbon monoxide alarm.
5. Know how to shut off natural gas in your home.
Every home that uses natural gas has a gas shutoff valve, usually outside the house. When making a list of what to do in a gas leak, make sure everyone knows where the shutoff valve is and how to use it. Cutting off the supply of gas prevents additional gas from escaping can prevent exposure to natural gas.
Even with the valve turned off, it’s important not to go back in the house if there’s a natural gas leak. Call 911 and wait for help.
Pro tip! Hurricanes and other extreme weather events can compromise the safety of your gas lines, so an important hurricane safety tip is to keep an eye (and a nose) out for any leaks during or immediately following a hurricane. Also, if you know a hurricane is headed your way, consider turning off the natural gas valve for added safety.
What to Do If You Have a Natural Gas Leak in Your Home
Knowing what to do in a gas leak is as important as being able to recognize the signs and symptoms of a leak. If you suspect you’re dealing with a gas leak, take the following steps:
Evacuate the premises. Everyone in the home should leave the building immediately and regroup at a pre-chosen safe place. This limits your exposure to the gas and puts distance between you and the home in case the gas leak ignites.
Leave the doors and windows open. On your way out of the home, open all doors and windows. This allows natural gas to vent outdoors.
Call for help. As soon as everyone is outside and a safe distance from the home, call for help.
How to report a gas leak
In the event of a natural gas leak, homeowners should call:
- their local fire department or
- their state’s natural gas-emergency line
811: Call before you dig.
Before landscaping or excavating, call 811 to make sure you won’t accidentally disturb gas lines as you dig. Rupturing a gas line with a shovel or heavy equipment can have serious consequences, including large-scale explosions.
What NOT to Do When You Suspect a Leak
Knowing what not to do in a gas leak situation is just as important as knowing what to do. If you suspect your home has a gas leak, there are steps you definitely should not take:
Do not search for the source of the leak. Searching for the cause of a gas leak exposes you to the gas, with potentially dangerous results. Leave leak detection to the experts.
Do not try to repair the leak on your own. Always contact a professional. Attempting a DIY repair without a professional could place you at risk.
Do not use electronics inside the house. This includes cell phones, telephones, light switches or electronic devices with batteries. Any use of electricity can trigger a spark that may ignite the leaked natural gas.
Do not stay indoors. Evacuate as soon as you can.
Do not keep windows and doors closed. This allows natural gas to build up and accumulate, and could make the situation worse.
Do not fail to report the situation. Play it safe, and contact professionals whenever you suspect a leak.
Do not use matches or lighters. Avoid any open flames, which can ignite natural gas. Explosions caused by the ignition of accumulated natural gas can level a home.
As long as you follow sensible natural gas safety precaution and understand what to do in a gas leak, natural gas is safe in the home. Natural gas provides a cost-effective option for heating your home and powering appliances, and offers homeowners many benefits. Check your local natural gas rates to see if switching to gas is right for you.