Diagnosing and Repairing Gas Leaks in the Home
Owning a home is rewarding in countless ways, but it requires a lot of hard work, diligence and dedication. Most issues for homeowners can be readily diagnosed and easily addressed: paint is chipping off your front door, so you retouch it. Your garage ceiling leaks after a heavy rain, so you know it needs to be repaired. But these are just the easily ascertained concerns. There is an entire other category of problems that require awareness, knowledge and a higher level of vigilance: the invisible threats. Unseen dangers pose unique perils, because they can appear inscrutable to the untrained eye. This article is dedicated to one such peril: the dreaded gas leak. Read on to learn how to diagnose whether you do indeed have a gas leak, and if so, what to do about this urgent and potentially explosive predicament.
Natural gas is the world’s cleanest fossil fuel, as it produces just carbon dioxide, water vapor and trace amounts of nitrogen oxide when it’s burned. Natural gas is used to power a wide variety of consumer appliances, such as clothes dryers, stoves, furnaces, fireplaces and water heaters. Natural gas is thus an essential component of modern living. Imagine waking up on a cold, cloudy February morning and having to face a cold shower. It may appeal to Wim Hof, Aquaman and the Finns, but even the stout Finnish polar bear plungers alternate cold water submersions with the relief of a hot sauna. And I bet it’s natural gas that warms a lot of those steam rooms. This is all to say: thank Heaven for natural gas.
And luckily for us, natural gas is usually quite a safe resource to exploit. In addition to causing less pollution than other fossil fuel sources, it is highly dependable and rarely causes problems for homeowners. That said, under certain circumstances, it can go from being a safe, reliable source of power and comfort to a major headache for both your health and your home. Learn what these hazardous conditions are so you can make sure to avoid them.
Common Causes of Residential Gas Leaks
- Degraded Fittings and Poor Connections. Fittings are the pipes, valves, and meters used to safely transport natural gas from your home’s primary supply line to each of your gas-powered appliances. The connection points between the fittings and the appliance are thus absolutely critical. It takes a good amount of skill to install lasting, reliable fittings and connections, so it is worth the money to hire a professional to perform this essential task.
- Poor Appliance Maintenance. A well-made and well-maintained gas appliance will last years without developing any serious problems. However, as they say, s*** happens. Even a brand new gas appliance can malfunction. And if said malfunction impacts either the flow or combustion of the natural gas fuel source, the end result can be a leak. Fortunately, you can delay the consequences of wear and tear by keeping your appliances properly maintained. On the other hand, if you fail to perform regular maintenance, you shorten the lifespan of your appliances and increase the chances of a leak. The proper schedule for maintenance depends on a number of factors, including the type of appliance and your pattern of usage. Consult the manufacturer of your appliance or a professional repairman. Ignore this advice at your own peril.
How To Tell If You Have a Gas Leak
Despite all our best efforts at prevention, occasionally a gas leak still manages to spring up. It’s critical that we are able to identify when this occurs so we can take swift action to avoid disaster. Below are the tell-tale signs to look out for.
- You Smell Rotten Eggs. If you suddenly smell rotten eggs in your home, one of two unfortunate events has occurred. Either you have left some eggs out in the sun and they’ve gone sour, or the far more likely (and serious) culprit is to blame: you have a gas leak. While natural gas has no natural odor, as a safety precaution to help you identify leaks, gas companies add a harmless chemical called mercaptan to give the gas its distinctive “rotten egg” smell.
- You Hear a Hissing or Whistling Noise. If you apprehend a hissing or whistling sound near your gas line, you may be experiencing a fairly sizable gas leak. The location of the hiss is important. For example, if the sibilance occurs near your A/C unit, it could be your refrigerant line, a leaking valve, or a damaged compressor. If it’s near your gas line however, you likely have a serious problem and need to take immediate action.
- Check the Stove or Range Top. Gas stoves operating properly should give off a blue flame when you first turn on the burner. If your stove burner gives off orange or red flames, take heed, because there may be leaking gas in the air that’s stealing away oxygen.
- Utilize a Gas Leak Detector. Purchasing a gas leak detector could be the most important $25 you spend this year. If you could pay $25 to avoid suffering a potentially cataclysmic explosion in your home, would you do it? The most efficient way to ascertain whether you have a gas leak is to use a proper gas leak detector. There are several gas leak detector options for you to choose from. Click the link above to peruse your choices and pricing.
- Conduct the Soapy Water Test. Mix a teaspoon of soap into a cup of water. Douse the suspected area of the leak with this solution, and look for bubbles. The presence of bubbles indicates that gas is escaping from that spot.
Oh No, I Have a Gas Leak! What Do I Do?
Okay, so you’ve taken all the necessary preventative measures and precautions, and yet you still smell rotten eggs one afternoon while you’re heating up some tea. You consult your handy gas leak detector and discover that you do, in fact, have a gas leak. Don’t ignore this calamity and don’t delay addressing it. It’s incredibly important to act immediately and appropriately upon first discovering you have a leak. Here is what you need to do:
Evacuate Your Home Immediately. If you suspect a gas leak, leave. Don’t hesitate and don’t overthink or second guess yourself. Even a minor leak can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, fires and explosions, all of which can be deadly.
- Stop Using All Electrical Devices. In the case of even a small gas leak, adding a spark from any electrical device, such as a phone or light, could cause a major fire or explosion. Thus, don’t touch any electrical devices as you evacuate– leave everything as it is and go.
- Leave Your Doors Open. As you exit your home, leave windows and doors open. This will allow some of the gas to escape, which can curb the risk to your home and property.
- Call 911 and Your Gas Company. Once you’re at a safe distance from your home, call 911 and your gas company. The fire department and your gas company can both inspect and get your gas line shut off. From there, professional teams will inspect your property and your gas lines to ensure that everything is safe.
Natural gas is a fantastic fuel source, the world’s cleanest fossil fuel, and a necessary component of comfortable modern living. We all want to be able to rapidly and efficiently dry our clothes, power our cozy gas fireplace, and take toasty showers on cold winter mornings. But with great power and convenience comes responsibility.
Though it is usually quite safe, natural gas still poses certain hazards. These hazards are made more dangerous by the fact that they are invisible, and more consequential still by the fact that they cause devastating and dangerous explosions. Still, gas companies have had the foresight to add a rotten egg smell to the gas that’s delivered to your home, so it’s easier to detect a leak. If you don’t have a great sense of smell, however, and desire added protection, purchasing a dedicated gas leak detector is the best move.
By taking the proper precautions, such as ensuring your gas line fittings are expertly installed and maintaining your gas appliances, you hedge your bets against a leak. Still though, vigilance and awareness is required. Check your gas lines and appliances regularly. Stay cognizant of any tell-tale signs of a leak. And, most importantly, if you do detect a leak, act immediately and employ the appropriate steps. The safety of your home and your loved ones depends on it.
By employing these guidelines, and educating yourself about the causes and signs of a gas leak, we can enjoy all the fabulous perks of natural gas appliances in our home safely, and with a priceless peace of mind.