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How to recognize the signs of a gas leak

Natural gas and propane are two of the cleanest and widely used fossil fuels in the United States. Many of us use them daily. They power furnaces, fireplaces, water heaters, stoves, grills, etc., and are so integrated into our lives that we often forget the damage that can result when they are unsafely handled or used.

Those of us who have gas-utilizing equipment must be on the lookout for signs a gas leak exists.

Recognizing the signs of a gas leak

Luckily, we all have the ability to detect a natural gas leak. It is simply a matter of using our senses and recognizing clues that a dangerous condition exists. The following steps are some of the signs that natural gas leak exists in your home or on your property.

1. The smell of rotten eggs: Natural gas and propane are naturally odorless. However, an odorant is added for safety purposes. The odor is most often described as smelling like sulphur or "rotten eggs." If you smell this odor in your house, a gas leak is likely present.

2. Hearing a hissing noise: Natural gas is delivered to your home in pressurized pipelines. Due to the pressure in the pipes, you may hear a hissing noise if a pipe is leaking. It may be a good idea to periodically listen for hissing noises in the areas where natural gas appliances are located. Doing so may tip you off that a gas leak is present. Propane is often stored in tanks on your property. However, a hissing sound may indicate a leak is present on your propane tank or associated piping.

3. Physical symptoms: Your body may provide clues that a gas leak exists. If you have unexplained headaches or dizziness you may be unwittingly inhaling natural gas or propane. In the event you develop an unexplained illness, you may want to have your gas appliances and piping checked for leaks.

4. Dead or dying plants: Everyone knows natural gas can travel through the air. However, it can also migrate underground, where it can kill grass or other plants. If you notice dead or decaying plants in isolated areas around your home, you may a natural gas leak.

5. High gas bills: Natural gas leaks don't just affect your senses. They also affect your pocketbook by increasing your utility bill. A higher than average utility bill may mean you have a gas leak. If you have an usually large natural gas bill which can't be explained by an increased use of gas (for instance, using more gas in the winter), you may have a leak. Call your utility and ask why your bill was higher. They can either explain why your bill is larger, or send someone out to perform a leak investigation.

If you are unsure you are capable of detecting a leak, it may be wise to invest in a gas or carbon monoxide detector. These devices can supplement your natural ability to detect a leak. It is recommended the detectors be installed professionally.

What should I do if I have a leak?

If you suspect a leak is present, immediately evacuate the premises and call your utility or gas supplier. If you believe the gas leak poses a threat, you should also call 911. It is best to make these calls outside the home, as using your phone may ignite the gas.

You should also familiarize yourself with how to shut off your gas supply to the house. Again, it is important to shut the gas off outside the home. Then wait for help to arrive.

In the meantime, warn others who may come near your home that a gas leak exists. However, don't reenter your home or try to stop the leak. This would be dangerous. The gas supplier employs professionals trained to detect and mitigate leaks.

Know anyone injured by a gas leak?

Despite natural gas and propane being safe products, accidents do happen. The natural gas industry is highly regulated due to safety issues associated with the use or sell of the product. When accidents happen, it is usually because someone failed to follow the proper safety rules or regulations. Sometimes natural gas equipment is negligently designed or manufactured. Other times a utility may fail to safely respond to a gas leak.

The attorneys at Satterley & Kelley have litigated claims involving gas explosions. This includes home and college dormitory explosions. If you or someone you know has been injured by gas, you may contact our office at (800) 655-2117.

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