A gas leak is a serious safety hazard that should never be ignored. If the odor is very strong, don't wait—leave the home immediately and call the gas utility company to investigate. There is a notable danger of explosion and fire if the air is heavily laden with a strong gas smell. Utility companies take this danger very seriously, and will immediately come to your home to check it out at no charge to you.
Natural gas has no odor at all. The distinctive rotten egg smell we associate with gas is an additive that the gas company places in the gas to alert you to leaks.
If the smell is faint, you can investigate a bit to see if you can determine where the leak is located, then turn off the gas near the leak before calling the utility company. In the vast majority of cases, the gas leak will be near some appliance in your home. Possibilities include:
- Gas stove, oven or range
- Gas water heater
- Gas furnace or boiler
- Gas fireplace or other gas-fueled heaters
Here are some methods for turning off the gas if you smell a leak. You made need a wrench and have some knowledge of how a gas cock (or valve) works.
What Is a Gas Cock or Valve?
Gas cocks (or gas valves) are usually quarter-turn valves that are parallel to the pipe when on and perpendicular when off. They have ears and can be a ball-type valve, too.
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The kitchen stove is the most obvious location for a gas leak. As with most gas appliances, the various connections that link the stove to the main gas line are the most likely places for leaks. Make sure not to start up the stove burners or oven while this gas smell is in the air. Although the chances are remote, it's possible that a heavy gas saturation in the air could be ignited in the presence of an open flame.
Sometimes a gas smell can be caused simply by one of the stovetop burners that have accidentally been turned on without the burner igniting. In this case, turn off the control dials, open a window, and wait for the smell to dissipate. With this case, there's no need to call the utility company to investigate.
The gas line connections to the stove or range are normally located behind the stove. The appliance must be carefully pulled out from the wall a short distance to expose the gas line and shutoff valve. With the gas valve shut off, the connections can be examined and tightened.
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If you are suspect the water heater is the source of a gas leak, you can shut off the gas there. This valve will shut off gas to the water heater only. It's especially important to shut off the gas if you suspect a leak here since water heaters fire up automatically and you want to avoid any open flames whatsoever if you suspect a gas leak.
The gas shut-off valve on a water heater is usually rather close to the heater, located on the gas pipe that runs from the main gas line to the burner chamber. The gas pipe can either be a rigid black pipe or a flexible gas tube, and the shutoff valve will be located near the place where the gas line branches to the water heater.
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If you smell gas near your furnace, look for a valve handle on the gas pipe close to the body of the furnace. Turning it so the handle is positioned at 90 degrees to the line of the pipe will turn off the gas.
If the gas shutoff valve is not immediately visible, trace the gas pipe backward from the furnace. The shutoff valve may be located a few feet from the body of the furnace.
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The Gas Meter
If you find no appliance that is the likely source of the leak or cannot find a method of turning off the gas as a suspected appliance, you can go directly to the gas meter to shut off the main gas valve. If you suspect a leak near your gas furnace, for example, and find no gas shut-off valve near the furnace, the main shutoff valve may be the only option.
Turning off the main gas shut-off at the meter ensures that there isn't any more gas being fed into the house at all; it should be your option whenever you can't tell what appliance is the source of the leak or can't find a local shutoff valve.
The gas meter is usually located in a utility area of the home, such as the garage, in a basement, or along an outside wall.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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Take No Chances
Seeking out an individual appliance gas valve should be done only if the smell of gas in the air is very faint. Natural gas or propane is a dangerous substance, and you should never be reluctant to call your utility company to investigate a suspected leak. And under no circumstances should you remain in the house or attempt to investigate the source of a leak if the gas smell is strong or pervasive. Exit your home and call the professionals when in doubt.