You chose to have natural gas lines in your home for a reason. Perhaps you wanted them for energy savings. Natural gas operates more efficiently than other power sources, so you won’t have to pay as much for power to run your water heater or laundry appliances. Or maybe you wanted to go green: natural gas gives you the perfect option when you want to preserve our planet’s natural resources.
However, even though natural gas has a myriad of benefits, it doesn’t come without its dangers. Damaged gas pipes and appliances can lead to gas leaks, and gas leaks can have disastrous (even explosive) consequences.
Warning Signs of a Gas Leak
If you want to keep your home and your family safe, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with these warning signs. You’ll probably never experience a gas leak, but if you do, noticing these signs could save lives.
By itself, natural gas doesn’t have a smell. However, providers add a distinctive odor so you know when you have a leak: rotten eggs. This odor is usually the first warning sign that one of your gas lines or appliances has broken. But you may not always notice the smell if it comes on gradually or if other strong odors mask it.
When your natural gas lines or appliances begin to leak, you’ll likely hear a hissing, whistling, or even roaring around the leak. This sound occurs because the gas has found a small hole, and pressure forces the gas at high speeds through that hole. The force makes the material vibrate. Walk around your house to listen for these sounds near your pipes or appliances.
Unfortunately, natural gas doesn’t give any visual signs on its own. It doesn’t have a color or a shape that will warn you of its presence. But it will cause reactions that give you other visible signs:
- You’ll see debris, leaves, or dirt blowing away from a small hole.
- In extreme cases, you’ll see a fire spark. Natural gas has extremely flammable properties, so even a spark from turning on a light switch could ignite it.
- Dead or dying vegetation near pipelines. Plants need carbon dioxide to breathe, so they’ll die if they only have natural gas around them.
- Bubbles in wet areas in your yard. This indicates a leak in a pipeline under your property. Damage on a gas line or appliance.
Your body will also tell you when you have an advanced leak. You’ll notice symptoms like the following:
- Headaches (mild to severe, depending on exposure)
- Abnormal breathlessness
- Inability to concentrate
The first two symptoms occur after mild exposure, while the others develop the longer you stay in the affected area. If you continue to stay in an area with a gas leak, you may even lose consciousness because your body can’t get enough oxygen.
If you even suspect a leak in your area or near your home, don’t stay near the leak for long, and don’t go looking for the leak’s source after you notice signs. Instead, get as far away as you can, and take your family with you.
Ways to Respond to a Gas Leak
If you know you have a gas leak inside your home, take the following steps:
- Gather your family members (and pets if you can scoop them up in less than a minute) and leave the area immediately. You don’t know how much the leak has progressed, and you don’t know how close it has traveled to a source of heat or an open flame, like the pilot light in your furnace, water heater, stove, or fireplace. Once it reaches these areas, it can explode. As you leave, don’t touch light switches, phones, appliances, light fixtures, outlets, or any other electrical devices. And don’t scrape your feet across the carpet. You don’t want static electricity to ignite the leak.
- Walk, don’t drive, to a safe location. You shouldn’t start engines of any kind near the leak, as the resulting combustion could ignite the natural gas.
- Once you’ve travelled a safe distance from your home, use your cell phone to warn your neighbors, friends, and family about the leak so they’ll stay away from your home.
- Call 911, then call your natural gas provider.
- Stay away from the leak until the authorities have taken care of it.
Again, don’t try to locate the leak yourself. You may spend time investigating when you should have used that time to run away. Leave the moment you notice the signs above. Don’t risk your health or your family’s health for the sake of curiosity, and don’t risk your life to turn off the gas valve. Let the authorities handle the leak instead-you can focus your attention on helping your family in the meantime.