Safety Tips for Use of Natural Gas in the Home

By June 10, 2016Burn Safety
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Are You Using Gas Appliances In Your Home?

Natural Gas Safety

Natural gas is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas which is commonly used as a clean and efficient source of energy for the home.

It is however, a highly flammable, inherently dangerous substance which can cause a violent explosion in the home, making it essential that homeowners take precautions and learn what they can about safety measures that should be taken.

The SMELL!!

As mentioned earlier, natural gas is both colorless and odorless.  As such, a gas leak would normally go completely undetected until it was too late.  An unlit valve on your stove, leaks from furnaces and fireplaces, and broken gas pipes would all become deadly.  The only time you’d notice them is when an explosion occurred.

Because of this a substance called mercaptan is added to the gas in very small amounts in order to give it a smell that is instantly recognizable and basically un-ignorable.  Mercaptan is added as a safety feature, as it doesn’t change the characteristics of the gas in any other way.In its concentrated form the smell of mercaptan is unbearable.  When it is added to natural gas, it is added in quantities that are measured in parts per million.  Even that small amount is enough to make you notice it immediately.

The smell of leaking gas is akin to rotten eggs.  It is the sulfur in the marcaptan that gives it its trademark odor.  Mercaptan is added in very small amounts and it was chosen as an additive because it doesn’t change the properties of the gas itself.  This means that it rises the same way that the natural gas rises and dissipates in the same manner.

Mercaptan is used in many other industries, as well, including pharmaceuticals, livestock feed and jet fuel.  It is also found naturally in rotten eggs, garlic, onions, skunks and unfortunately, bad breath.

SAFETY AROUND THE HOME – South Carolina ‘Call Before You Dig’

Natural gas leaks often are the result of homeowners accidentally rupturing gas lines while doing yard work or digging in their yard.   Accidentally digging into utility lines is extremely dangerous and can result in serious injury or death.  Entire neighborhoods can be placed at risk, not to mention disruptions in utility services while service is shut down in order to make repairs.

The underground network of gas lines has the capability of providing natural gas to nearly any home in the contiguous 48 states.  The system of underground pipes are buried at various depths and without having your yard staked out by professionals, you can never be sure where they can be found.  Even if you’ve located one pipe in the past, that does not mean there isn’t another one somewhere else in your yard.

South Carolina is part of the 811 system, which allows you to call before you do any digging to avoid causing an accident.  You can also request the service via their website, here.

  • It is important to be safe before excavating by alerting the appropriate state notification center and allowing time for the area utility companies to mark the location of their underground utilities.
  • Remember that locating underground utility lines is not an exact science and location marks have varying bands of required accuracy, depending on a particular state’s requirements. These can range from 18 to 24 inches from the actual utility line.

SAFETY IN THE HOME

<span “>While many homeowners use natural gas in the home as an efficient source of fuel for heating and cooking, as is noted above, it is an extremely dangerous, highly flammable substance.  Every year, devastating explosions and fires caused by a gas leak occur in homes across the country.

Learning how to handle natural gas, and how to burn it safely is essential to the safety of you and your family.

If you smell gas:

  • Do not attempt to locate gas leaks.
  • Exit the home or building immediately and call your local utility or gas supplier.
  • Do not turn on or off any battery-powered, rechargeable or electrical device, including phones, garage door opener, radios, TVs, computers or any device that could create a spark.
  • Do not turn on or turn off any lights or electrical switches, or unplug appliances.
  • Do not use telephones of any type, including cordless, cell or landline.
  • Do not operate vehicles and power equipment where leaking gas may be present.
  • Do not smoke or use lighters, matches or other open flames.

Keep Gas Appliances Operating Safely:

  • Keep forced-air furnace filters clean. Clean or replace them according to the manufacturer’s recommendation.
  • Avoid using or storing the following products near a gas-fueled furnace in your home: paint stripper, fabric or water softener, bleach, adhesives, or salt for melting ice. The chlorine or fluorine in these items can lead to furnace corrosion.
  • If your owner’s manual recommends it, oil the furnace fan, motor and bearings.
  • Keep your heat registers and cold-air returns clean so the air can flow properly. Also, arrange your furniture and drapes so they don’t block the air flow.
  • Have a qualified and certified heating contractor inspect your furnace or boiler annually. Regular service and inspection of your gas-fueled appliances will ensure they are safe for normal operation, will reduce your energy costs and will help avoid costly repairs.
  • Check the flue to make sure it is clean and open. Any fuel that does not burn completely can create harmful levels of carbon monoxide (CO). CO is a gas with no color, odor or taste. It can collect in your home if a fuel-burning appliance isn’t working properly or venting as it should.

CARBON MONOXIDE SAFETY TIPS

As mentioned in a previous article, natural gas appliances are typically safe for normal use, but a malfunctioning appliance can lead to exposure to carbon monoxide gas, which can be deadly.

Carbon monoxide is produced when natural gas, propane or other fossil fuels fail to burn completely. Like natural gas, carbon monoxide, or CO, is a colorless, odorless gas.  However, because CO is a by-product of the incomplete burning of natural gas, no odorant can be added that will make it recognizable.

An awareness of what produces carbon monoxide can help protect you and your family.

  • Be sure your natural gas appliances are inspected regularly by a licensed contractor to ensure that they are functioning properly, and repair any malfunctioning appliances immediately.
  • Be sure your home is equipped with a working carbon monoxide alarm which can be the difference between life and death if a CO leak occurs.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include dizziness, headaches, queasy stomach and drowsiness. Prolonged exposure can, and often does, result in death.

If you use gas in your home or business, review these safety tips:

  • The flame in the gas appliances generally should be blue. If the flame is mostly yellow, that indicates that the gas is not completely burning and is giving off carbon monoxide.
  • Never store items in, on or around a gas appliance that might obstruct air flow.
  • Forced-air furnaces generally have a filter that cleans the air before heating and circulating it throughout the home. Check the filter regularly and clean or replace when necessary. Most replacement filters are inexpensive.
  • When installing a new or cleaned filter, be sure to properly re-install the front panel door of the furnace so it fits snugly. Never operate the furnace without the front panel door properly in place, as dangerous gases may escape.
  • Make sure your furnace and water heater are inspected annually by a qualified professional. This is the first line of defense in CO prevention.
  • Also, be sure to clean or replace your furnace filter throughout the heating season, and check your chimney or dryer vent for blockages.
  • Check for signs of improper venting, such as soot around the appliance or moisture on the inside of windows when the appliance is operating.
  • Vacuum regularly around the furnace, especially around the burner compartment, to prevent a buildup of dust and lint.
  • Be safe – install a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector and regularly test the detector to ensure it is working properly.
  • Use only space heaters approved by local fire codes and installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Never use a portable barbecue grill of any kind as a home heater. They produce carbon monoxide, are not properly insulated and can easily overturn.
  • Keep all vents and chimneys clear of debris and other blockages.
  • Don’t line oven or range burners with foil.
  • Check fireplaces for closed or blocked flues.
  • Get your chimney inspected, swept and cleaned as needed.
  • Make sure your exterior dryer vent is free of lint.
  • Do not leave a car running in a garage, even if the garage door is open.
  • Periodically check range pilots for carbon build-up.

In addition to the above listed precautions, appliance owners should be aware that certain appliances, fitted with plastic (PVC) vent pipes have been subjected to a recall and must be retrofitted with a non-PVC vent pipe – at no cost to appliance owners.  In a future article we will discuss this recall, and give you the names of manufacturers that have issued the recalls, along with more information on the particular appliances to which it is subject.

If you have been injured in a fire or explosion caused by a gas leak , contact the law offices of Walker Morgan at (800) 922-8411 or use the Contact Form on our website to schedule a free consultation.  The attorneys at Walker Morgan have represented many individuals in personal injury lawsuits involving burn injuries and other personal injuries resulting from gas leaks and gas explosions.  Contact us today with questions about your case.

Every case is unique.  Any result Walker Morgan may achieve on behalf of a client in one matter does not necessarily indicate similar results can be obtained for other clients.

Will Walker

About Will Walker