How to Detect Gas Leaks in Your Home
Gas leaks in the home can be one of the more insidious hazards you’re likely to encounter.
When it is initially extracted from beneath the earth’s surface, natural gas is colourless and odourless. An odourant is added to natural gas before it reaches the home to make leak detection easier, however there needs to be someone in or near the home to be able to detect it.
Given how many homes across Australia rely on this resource, particularly for cooking, heating and hot water purposes, it is critical to know what to do in the event of a gas leak in your home. Natural gas safety is paramount, so let’s explore it further.
Why are Gas Leaks Dangerous?
Gas leaking in your home is dangerous for numerous reasons. Whether it has come from your kitchen cooktop, the air conditioner or your hot water heater:
- Gas is highly flammable, and can cause a fire or explosion when it is exposed to flame or a spark from an appliance.
- Natural gas reduces the volume of oxygen in a room, making it harder for people to breathe.
- Inhaling natural gas can lead to dizziness, nausea, headaches and fatigue. In larger quantities it can result in loss of consciousness and loss of memory among other health concerns.
- One of the biggest risks that comes with a gas leak is carbon monoxide poisoning. It gets into your bloodstream and can result in tissue damage. Even in low concentration volumes, carbon monoxide poisoning can be fatal.
Knowing how to detect if and where gas is leaking in your home is vital, and potentially life-saving.
The Tell-Tale Signs of a Gas Leak
There are several ways to tell if you have a suspected gas leak, beyond the obvious ability to smell gas inside.
- Your nose knows best – as natural gas is lighter than air, it will rise. Due to the presence of the added odourant, the gas will smell much like rotten eggs. If you detect that smell and you’re not actively using the gas for any purpose, such as cooking, there is a possibility you have a gas leak.
- Follow your ears – as well as following your nose, you may be able to follow your ears and detect the gas leak by actively listening for the source. Search for a hissing noise, especially near any gas-powered appliances, and you’ll potentially find your gas leak’s point of origin.
- Follow your eyes – though natural gas is colourless, a leak can potentially cause an unsettling of dust in the immediate vicinity. You might see the dust swirling around, or you might notice a white mist near the source of the leak.
- Check the gas bills – Your gas bills will show signs of unexpected increased usage, compared to the same period in the previous year. As gas leaks can be slow and stealthy, you might not notice it occurring until the bill has arrived.
- Check for flame colour – a flame on a perfectly working stove burner should always be blue. If the flame is red or yellow, it can suggest the presence of leaking gas. It can also indicate the possibility of carbon monoxide being present, so contacting a licensed gas fitter as soon as possible should be your first port of call.
- Electronic detector will sound – If you have an electronic gas detector, its alarm will sound if it detects a gas leak. Electronic detectors can pick up on traces of natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and even carbon monoxide.
One other way to detect when a gas leak occurs in your house is to apply the soapy water test. It’s pretty simple; fill a spray bottle with water and add some dishwashing liquid. Don’t shake up the bottle – you want the bubbles to come later. Coat all the gas transmission parts – any pipes, hoses and valves – with the soapy water, and then pressurise the system.
As an example, if you were testing your barbeque for a gas leak, you’d turn on the gas bottle but leave the burners turned off. Once the system is pressurised, if there is a gas leak that water will begin to bubble. No bubbling? No gas leak present.
It must be said as well that you should never use an open flame or other ignition source to detect a gas leak as it could result in fire or explosion.
What To Do If You Detect Leaking Gas
Whether you’re dealing with small gas leaks or something on a larger scale, what do you do next?
- First and foremost, turn off all gas and electrical appliances – either can create a spark that ignites the gas. Make sure any pilot lights are out as well.
- Extinguish any flames and put out any cigarettes for the same reason.
- Open up any windows and doors to increase ventilation and minimise the build up of gas in the home.
- Turn off the gas at the gas meter.
- Evacuate your house and, when you’re in a safe location, call the gas distributor in your state for assistance. Of course, if the gas leak has become dangerous or life-threatening, call immediately for emergency assistance on 000.
If you’re not sure where your gas meter is located, it will usually be located immediately next to the front of the house – usually on the left or right. If you require the assistance of a licensed gas fitter, they should be able to show you where it is located for future reference.
Air Conditioning Gas Leaks
You will need an experienced and certified air conditioning technician to address any possible leaking gas from your air conditioner as soon as possible. The freon-based refrigerant in the air conditioner can evaporate into a gas when it leaks. Freon gas is highly toxic and can potentially be life-threatening. Not only does it cause feelings of nausea, increased heart rate and skin irritation, but it can also lead to asphyxiation.
Air conditioner gas leakage can be caused by a number of factors including:
- The air conditioning unit was installed incorrectly
- Corrosion of the metallic parts of the unit
- Natural wear and tear caused by regular usage of the air conditioner
- Any manufacturing defect
The most common sign that you have a gas leak in your unit is that the room isn’t cooling down as you’d expect it to when the air con is on. You might also detect a hissing sound. If you suspect you have a potential leak from your unit, have it looked at by a professional air conditioning technician as soon as possible.
Contact the Natural Gas Specialists
Natural gas leaks don’t always present themselves immediately. They can be slow and take their time to become noticeable in the home. But once you smell gas, you know it’s there. Naturally, prevention is better than cure, so it may be worthwhile having a professional examine the gas lines and appliances in your home.
A licensed gas fitter can conduct a thorough examination to reduce the risk of future gas leaks and strengthen the safety of your home and your family.
Please note: This information is provided for advice purposes only. Regulations differ from state to state, so please consult your local authorities or an industry professional before proceeding with any work. See our Terms & Conditions here.