Many homes in the US have one or more gas-burning appliances, such as a furnace, water heater, cook stove, or fireplace. Natural gas is used so much because it is much cleaner than most other energy sources. Burning natural gas does produce carbon dioxide and a small amount of nitrogen oxide. However, it is still far cleaner than any other fossil fuel.
While this fuel is efficient and reasonably environmentally friendly, a gas leak inside or outside your home can be extremely hazardous. This makes it essential to have your gas lines and gas-burning appliances inspected regularly. Additionally, everyone in your home should know how to spot the signs of a gas leak. To make this easier, here are some signs you should look for that can indicate a gas leak and also what steps to take if you suspect a gas leak inside or outside your home.
Rotten Egg Smell
Natural gas is colorless and odorless, which means it is impossible to detect on its own. To overcome this issue, all gas providers add a special chemical to the natural gas, giving it a strong, distinct odor similar to rotten eggs.
If there is a significant leak in one of your gas lines, you’ll often hear a loud hissing noise that results from the gas forcefully escaping. Larger gas appliances like a furnace or water heater often produce a similar hissing sound when running due to the gas flowing through the lines at high pressure. However, if you hear this hissing noise when the appliance is off, you likely have a gas leak.
Symptoms of Natural Gas Exposure or Poisoning
Smaller gas leaks can be more difficult to spot as the gas will often leak out slowly enough that it doesn’t produce a hissing noise. You may also not notice the rotten egg smell since it can quickly dissipate into the air if only a small amount of gas leaks. This makes it important to know how to recognize the symptoms of natural gas exposure and poisoning.
Breathing in low levels of natural gas will usually lead to symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, nausea, sudden fatigue, and irregular or ragged breathing. Exposure to high levels can quickly lead to natural gas poisoning, potentially leading to asphyxia and sudden death. Some of the most common symptoms of natural gas poisoning include extreme nausea and vomiting, severe headaches, extreme fatigue, sudden memory issues, or severe loss of concentration.
In most cases, poisoning will eventually cause you to lose consciousness and potentially start to suffocate. If you notice any of the symptoms of natural gas exposure or poisoning, you should immediately vacate the area, contact the gas company, and go to a doctor or the emergency room.
Stunted, Dying or Dead Plants
Smaller leaks in the underground gas line outside your home can be even more difficult to spot since the rotten egg smell will almost immediately dissipate or get blown away by the wind. If there is a leak in the underground gas line, you will often notice that plants or trees in the area are suddenly dead or starting to die. Exposure to even low levels of natural gas can interfere with the ability of a plant’s roots to absorb oxygen. This will often lead to sudden wilting or cause the plant to quickly die.
Natural gas usually won’t kill mature trees. Still, it can cause the leaves to grow smaller than normal or lead to them suddenly yellowing and falling off. An underground gas leak will also often cause grass in the surrounding area to suddenly yellow and die.
Air Bubbles in Mud or Standing Water
Another sure sign of an underground gas leak is if you see air bubbles rising up through any mud or standing water in your yard. This indicates that gas is leaking from the underground pipe and rising through the soil and into the air.
Orange or Yellow Flames
Natural gas produces a bright blue flame when it safely and fully combusts. A gas-burning appliance that produces yellow or orange flames can be another sign that the appliance has a small leak and isn’t burning the gas properly. This type of leak usually isn’t as serious, but it’s still something you should have checked as soon as possible.
Sudden Increase in Your Gas Bill
Even a small leak can waste quite a lot of gas and lead to your gas bill suddenly spiking. If you have a gas furnace, your gas bills will obviously be higher during the winter months. They may fluctuate a bit from month to month, depending on how cold it is and how often your furnace runs, but they will usually remain fairly consistent. If you ever have a sudden, unexpected spike in your gas bill, it may indicate a leak inside or, more likely, outside your home.
What to Do If Your Home Has a Gas Leak
A gas leak creates a significant risk of not only natural gas poisoning but also a fire or even a major explosion. This means you should take some immediate steps any time you suspect you have a gas leak inside or outside your home. If the leak is outside, you should immediately move away from the house to a safe distance down the street and then call 911 or your gas company’s emergency line to report the leak.
It’s critical that you do not do anything that might cause a spark. Switching lights on or off, using a phone, or turning on electrical equipment can cause a spark.
If the leak is inside your home, you should first close your main gas shut-off valve so that no more gas flows into your home. All homes should have a shut-off valve where the gas line enters from outside. Everyone in your family must know where the valve is and how to close it so you can be prepared in case of a leak.
After closing the valve, you should quickly open up a few windows and doors so that the gas can dissipate. This is important as it can greatly lessen the chances of the gas causing a major explosion and potentially leveling your house. You will then want to move a safe distance away from your house and call to report the leak.
Expert Gas Line and Leak Detection Services
At Magic Electric, Plumbing, Heating + Air, we specialize in installing and repairing gas lines and detecting leaks. We use highly sensitive, specialized equipment that can measure the gas level in your home and quickly determine if there is a leak. If we detect a leak, our team will locate the source and repair the gas line or appliance to fix the problem. We also offer electrical, plumbing, and HVAC services. Contact us today if you need gas leak detection or any other gas line services in the Twin Falls, Jerome or Boise areas.