February 16, 2017

Photo by: Graur Codrin

Gas leaks are a common issue. Long-time home energy trainer, Glenn Dickey, found that about 30% of the Maryland homes on which he trained contractors had minor gas leaks.

If you smell gas, and no stove burners were left on, evacuate the house as quickly as possible and call 9-1-1. Then, call your natural gas provider (your utility). Please note: a utility does not provide propane.

Another situation in which you may smell gas is when you leave your stove on by accident. This past summer, I was visiting my friends and their adorable 1-year-old boy on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. We went out to dinner and when we came home, we noticed a smell of rotten eggs or sulfur. (An odorant is added to natural gas and propane gas to help homeowners/customers sniff out leaks). My friend had accidentally left on the gas burner; he didn’t notice as there was no flame.

I have worked in residential energy efficiency and clean energy for the past 10 years, but, still, I was not exactly sure how cautious to be. Even though it was stifling hot outside, and we were literally next to a busy D.C. metro stop (i.e. noisy, loud, and not so clean), I had my friends open all the windows.

We went to sleep like that and, luckily, we all woke up fine. But, it gave me a good scare and I wanted to help myself, and others, be prepared.

What to do if you smell gas and a burner was inadvertently left in the “on” position

  • Immediately turn off the burner.
  • Do extinguish any flames that are lit.
  • Turn on the range hood fan to the highest setting.
  • Do not ignite any flame in the house (like cigarettes or candles) .
  • Do not turn on appliances, light switches, or your car (if in an attached garage or near your house).
  • Open all the windows and doors to air out your house.
  • If you can, get everyone, including your pets, out of the house while your house gets flushed with fresh air.

Live on the west coast? If you’re in an area with earthquakes, like the west coast, you’ve got even more to consider with gas leaks. Contact your utility or check their website for dealing with these situations.

Think you’ve been exposed to gas for a significant time? Natural gas replaces the oxygen in the air. If you think you’ve been exposed, call 9-1-1.

Proactive health and safety steps related to combustion appliances

First, check your house for your gas, propane, and oil appliances (also known as combustion appliances). These appliances may include:

  • Furnace
  • Gas or propane fireplace
  • Oven
  • Stove or range
  • Water heater

6 steps to keep your gas appliances (and your family) out of danger

  1. Buy and install carbon monoxide detectors near combustion appliances (see above).
  2. Buy and use the appropriate type of fire extinguisher for your kitchen and furnace rooms. Check the fire extinguisher every January 1st to make sure they are still pressurized.
  3. Save your utility’s emergency number in your cell phone and post it on the fridge (for a grab-and-go reference).
  4. Move or get rid of any paper (e.g., newspaper, packaging materials), household wood products, or anything else that can easily catch fire that are near your gas, propane, or oil appliances.
  5. Relocate paints and solvents to outside your home, if possible.
  6. Remove any natural gas space heaters. For more on why, read Energy Vanguard’s Allison Bailes’s blog post from 2011 (still relevant in 2017!).

Do NOT do these ineffective and dangerous things to stay warm

  1. Do not boil water on the stove to generate heat, rather than for its intended cooking purpose.
  2. Do not leave the oven door open to generate heat.

Your oven and stove are not home heaters – not now, never will be. These actions put you, your family, and your pets at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning, potential explosions, and fires, etc.

Stay safely warm this winter and all year long!

Thanks to Glenn Dickey, Bob Logston, and Larry Zarker for their contributions. Glenn is a Senior Building Scientist with CSRA and has 28 years of home energy experience. Bob is the owner of Home Energy Loss Professionals (HELP), and a BPI Building Analyst in the Baltimore, Maryland area. Larry is the CEO of the Building Performance Institute (BPI). 

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Hannah C. Wood

Hannah C. Wood joined the Building Performance Institute, Inc. as the Marketing and Communications Director in July 2016. Hannah has experienced winter in 4 northern countries. She likes all aspects of homemaking from yard work (seriously!) to insulation. She's committed to keeping people comfortable, healthy, and energy efficient at home.