So you’ve done the smart thing, and installed a natural gas leak detector in your home. So what do you do when it goes off? Knowing what to do (and what not to do) in the event of a gas leak can literally mean the difference between life and death. Read on to discover your best action plan in the event of a gas leak.
First, understand that natural gas is odorless. That nasty, rotten egg smell is mercaptan, an additive put in by the suppliers to act as a warning. If you smell it, that means there is gas in the air…but not necessarily at dangerous levels. That’s one reason a natural gas leak detector is so useful. Not only will you have a better idea of what concentration of gas is accumulating into you home, but you will also have a sure-fire warning system that alerts you to leaks even if you are asleep. A nasty smell is no good to you as an alarm if you’re a deep sleeper, or even if you have a cold or otherwise impaired olfactory senses.
So what do you do when the alarm sounds? First of all, don’t panic. Natural gas leak detectors are designed to go off long before gas has built up to dangerous levels. They are rated according to their Lower Explosive Limit (LEL), which means the percentage of the LEL the gas had to reach before the alarm goes off. 100% means that your house is in danger of exploding. If your detector is triggered at 15% of the LEL, that means you have plenty of time to take action before dangerous levels are reached.
Next, make sure there are no open flames. If there are, put them out immediately! This includes cigarettes, candles, or anything at all that is burning in your house. natural gas is extremely flammable and combustible, and an open flame plus gas in the air equals fire, or explosion. Turn any gas appliances off, and put out any pilot lights.
Do not touch or operate any electrical equipment. This includes lightswitches, and even the telephone. Again, even a small spark can ignite the gas. Don’t unplug appliances. If you need light, use a battery operated flashlight.
Open all the windows and doors to disperse the gas. If your natural gas leak detector is still going off, or you suspect that there is still a leak, turn the main gas line off and get out of the house. Call your fire department and your gas company from outside of the house, either on a cell phone or from the neighbors. It’s a good idea to keep emergency numbers in your car, so you don’t have to worry about grabbing them if you need to vacate the premises in a hurry.
Once you have your natural gas leak detector in place, it’s a good idea to make up an emergency plan, and practice it with your family. The best protection, after all, is preparation!