Natural gas is a mixture of gases that formed from the fossil remains of ancient plants and animals buried deep in the earth. The main ingredient in natural gas is the hydrocarbon methane. While natural gas is odorless in natural, utility companies add a sulfur compound called mercaptan to give the gas the unpleasant rotten-egg smell. Natural gas is used in many homes for home heating, cooking, hot water heaters, electricity generation, and clothes dryers. If your home uses natural gas, you should know the basics of natural gas safety and what to do in an emergency.
Gas Leak Prevention
To reduce the risk for a natural gas leak you should maintain all of your gas appliances or hire a service technician to conduct periodic inspections. Follow the manufacturer's maintenance and service schedules.
Do not move, install, or remove gas-operated appliances yourself as you could damage the gas distribution lines. Always have a professional install or replace gas appliances.
Know how to light the pilot light on any gas appliance that uses one. Very old appliances may allow gas to flow through the pilot when it is not lit. Allow any gas buildup to disperse before relighting a pilot light.
Never use a gas stove or oven for heat. This can cause a potentially fatal buildup of carbon monoxide.
Know how to shut off the gas to your appliances and your whole house. The gas is on when the handle is parallel to the gas line. To shut off the gas, turn the valve so the handle is perpendicular to the gas line. You will usually need an adjustable wrench for the main shutoff outside just before the meter.
Typical Gas Meter Arrangement
The gas valve typically has a hole in the handle so it can be locked in the “Off” position.
Install a natural gas detector and a carbon monoxide detector. These will sound an alarm if you have a gas leak or a buildup of carbon monoxide caused by incomplete burning of gas in an appliance.
In the event of a natural disaster, you may have to turn off the gas supply yourself. Make sure that you and all the members of your family know the location of the gas shutoff valve and how to operate it. It’s a good idea to keep a specifically labeled adjustable wrench in an accessible location so it will be close at hand in the event of an emergency.
California requires that all gas meters be equipped with an emergency shutoff valve in the event of a gas line rupture during an earthquake.
Gas leak detection
Odor: Natural gas is odorless in its original form but the mercaptan added by the gas company is used to warn occupants of a problem.
Sound: You may hear a hiss as gas escapes. If you have installed a natural gas detector or carbon monoxide detector, these alarms may go off.
Sight: You may see blowing dirt, bubbling water, or dead vegetation in your yard near buried gas lines. Wind may disperse the gas making it difficult to smell.
Illness: If you suffer headache, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, chest pain, agitation, confusion, irritability, fatigue, or drowsiness, you may be suffering from carbon monoxide exposure.
Gas leak located with a leak detector solution.
What to do if you have a natural gas leak
1. Open windows and doors to allow gas to escape.
2. Do not do anything that could create a spark to ignite the gas. This includes turning lights on or off, turning electronics on or off, using a phone or cell phone, opening a garage door or starting a car.
3. Do not search for the gas leak. Exit the building and turn off the main gas valve outside if possible.
4. Walk away from your home. Make sure all people and pets go with you. Do not start your car if it's in the garage or driveway.
5. Call the gas company or 911, once you are safely away. Follow their instructions and do not return to the house until they tell you do so.
Natural gas is an efficient fuel for home heating and cooking, but it must be treated with respect. By following these natural gas safety tips, you'll know how to prevent gas leaks and what to do if you have a gas leak.