it’s important to know how to detect a gas leak. With more than 50 million homes in the U.S. using natural gas or liquid propane (LP) to power furnaces, stoves, ovens, water heaters, gas grills and other appliances, there are bound to be concerns over the safety of its usage. Gas is one of the safest and cleanest fossil fuels, and is also better for the environment, as it produces mostly water vapor and carbon dioxide as well as significantly fewer greenhouse emissions than burning oil, coal, or wood.
However, natural gas and propane are highly combustible. It can produce a lot of heat when you burn small amounts, but it also means that a gas leak can pose a serious risk of fire and explosion. Ignited gas can spread quickly and goes up in flames easily. If you have a gas leak in the house, any electrical spark or fire source can ignite the gas with devastating results.
Learning how to detect a gas leak is your first line of defense against the dangers posed in using natural or propane gas. Even if the gas does not ignite, a natural gas leak can, at certain levels, kill you through suffocation. In much the same manner that carbon monoxide can kill by preventing the body from absorbing oxygen, natural gas or LP gas in the air at high concentrations can have the same effect.
Signs of a How to Detect a Gas Leak in Your Home
A gas leak indoors is the most dangerous, since the levels of gas in the air can quickly build up to levels that are toxic and explosive. Below are some things to look for.
Unpleasant smell: Natural gas and liquid propane do not have color or odor, so gas companies mix an additive that gives the gas a highly distinctive odor. This substance is harmless but pungent smelling; it is often described as having an odor like rotten eggs. If you have natural or propane gas at your house and can smell this odor, it is likely that you have a gas leak.
Hissing sound: A hissing sound coming from the area around a gas appliance or fitting is often a sign of a gas leak. This is a highly dangerous situation, since it means that quantities of gas are escaping. If you can hear a gas leak, you almost certainly will smell it. DO NOT try to fix the connection yourself; leave the house and call the gas or utility company to investigate as a first course of action. Secondarily, you should call 911 or your local fire department.
Health symptoms: Some of the most common symptoms of a gas leak in a home include but are not limited to dizziness, fatigue, headaches, nausea, nosebleeds, chest pains and ringing in the ears. If the symptoms disappear when you are away from the home, or if the symptoms are isolated to a certain area of the home, it is wise to check for gas leaks.
Pet symptoms: Pets are often more sensitive to humans when it comes to air quality. Unusual behavior in dogs, cats, birds, and other pets can be a sign of a gas leak. If pets are unexplainably lethargic, have a poor appetite, or are vomiting, make sure to check for a gas leak.
Dead house plants: Plants are extremely sensitive to any buildup of gas in the air and they may begin to die before you can detect any gas odor in the air. Failing house plants may indicate you have a slow gas leak that is otherwise undetectable.
3 Ways to Detect a Gas Leak
Safety is of prime concern when dealing with a gas leak of any sort. If however you determine that the potential leak poses no imminent danger, there are some simple ways to determine if and where you may have a gas leak.
Homemade Detector Solution: This is the simplest way to detect a gas leak. Mix a small amount of dish washing soap with water in a bowl and brush the solution on the suspected area or fill a spray bottle with the solution. Spray the solution onto the suspected leak area. If you see bubbles forming, you have located a leak that should be repaired by a qualified technician.
Electronic Gas Leak Detector: An electronic gas leak detector is a special device that is used to detect abnormal concentrations of combustible gas in the air. Once the electronic gas detector senses the presence of gas, it automatically triggers an alarm informing you of a leak. Electronic gas leak detectors can cost between $40 to $100 and are available at most home improvement or hardware stores.
Carbon Monoxide Detector: Carbon monoxide is one of the major components of natural or propane gas if its not burning properly. Carbon monoxide is odorless in nature. This type of detector works by monitoring the presence of carbon monoxide in the air much like the electronic gas leak detector. Portable carbon monoxide detectors are available at most home improvement or hardware stores.
How to Stay Safe
If you suspect a gas leak in your home, stop what you are doing and stay calm. DO NOT turn on or off any electrical switches, unplug anything or use your cell phone. Immediately go outside. Inhaling high concentrations of natural gas or propane can lead to asphyxia. Once you are a safe distance from the house, call your gas company or 911. Utility technicians have special tools that can detect even minute amounts of gas in the air. Next, if you suspect that your health has been severely affected by natural or propane gas poisoning, call 911.
Remember that just because you do not detect the familiar rotten-egg smell, it does not mean that you are not in danger. There still may be small quantities of gas that are affecting you and your family, so it is better to be safe than sorry.
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