Any home appliance that uses natural gas or liquid propane (LP) gas carries a potential fire hazard. Water heaters, furnaces, space heaters, stoves, ovens, and cooktop ranges can all be powered by gas, so it's a good idea to know where the gas shut-off valves are located on any of these appliances, and it's also a good idea to know where the main gas shut-off valve is located.
The Smell of Gas
Natural gas and liquid propane gas are actually completely odorless. The rotten-egg smell that we associate with gas is actually the result of a chemical additive placed in the gas by the utility company as a safety measure so that people will be alerted to a leak. So when you smell "gas," it means you should act—and quickly.
In many instances, the location of the gas smell will give you a strong hint about what appliance is malfunctioning or where the bad connection is located. If you smell gas in the kitchen, for example, it's quite likely that the problem lies with the stove or range. When the smell of gas is localized in this way, then it is safe to act quickly to turn off the gas supply to the appliance itself. However, if you ever run into a situation where the smell of gas permeates the entire house, don't waste time: turn off the main gas valve and leave the house immediately to call the authorities.
- Warning: If the gas smell in your home is very strong, it is best to leave the house immediately and call your utility to come and check out the problem. Understanding the danger of gas leaks, the utility companies will make this emergency inspection quickly and for free, and will have special sensing equipment to pinpoint the cause of the problem. The danger of explosion is very real in a house where the gas smell has filled several rooms, and you should leave immediately. If the odor of gas is faint, though, you can shut off the gas yourself before calling the utility company.
Shutting Off the Gas to Your Stove
Whether it is an emergency situation when you smell gas in the kitchen, or just for routine repair or replacement, every homeowner should know how to shut off the gas to the kitchen stove.
- If you smell gas, open windows to provide ventilation to the room. Do not turn on vent fans or even operate light fixtures until the gas has been shut off and the room has been ventilated. If the gas is dense in the air, there is a small but real chance that electrical arcing from flipping a wall switch could start a fire.
- Make sure all the burner controls are in the OFF position. In a surprising number of cases, a slightly opened burner valve is what is allowing gas to seep into the kitchen. If this isn't the problem, move to the next step.
- Pull the stove slowly out away from the wall to gain access to the gas valve located behind it. As you move the stove, keep an eye on the flexible gas pipe or tubing. It's very likely that connections on this pipe are where the gas leak is occurring, and you don't want to increase the problem by pulling out the stove too quickly or putting stress on the pipes. Do not unplug the stove from its electrical connection, since pulling the plug from the outlet creates a very small risk of sparking.
- Locate the gas valve handle and turn it a one-quarter turn until it stops. Usually, this is a ball valve with a lever handle. When it is in the OFF position, the handle will be perpendicular to the direction of the pipe.
- Turn on one of the stove burners to verify that the gas has been turned off.
- Call the gas company or appliance service division to come and find and correct the source of the problem.
While it is possible to inspect the flexible gas line and tighten the connections or replace the gas line yourself, the potential dangers here are great, and it's best to have the gas company do this inspection and work. In many communities, homeowners are discouraged or forbidden from working on gas lines themselves due to the inherent danger.
If you still smell gas after you shut off the gas to the stove, you should shut off the gas at the main gas meter and call the gas company. Vacate your home until the service person gives you the all-clear that your home is safe.
Cooktops and Wall Ovens
With cooktops that are set into countertop openings, shutting off the gas is very easy, since the shutoff valve is usually located inside the base cabinet below the cooktop. Just locate the valve and turn it one-quarter turn so the handle is perpendicular to the gas pipe. In rare instances, you may need to lift the cooktop unit away from the countertop opening to reach the shutoff valve.
Wall ovens that are mounted inside permanent wall cabinets usually have a gas shutoff valve located in a cabinet below or to the side of the oven, where it is readily accessible. This has been a code requirement for some time, but in older installations, the shutoff valve for a wall oven can be hard to find. It may even be located in another room, or in the basement space below the oven. Building codes now require the gas shutoff valve to be located within 6 feet of the appliance and in the same room, so if you find an improper situation, it is a good idea to have a service person install a proper shutoff valve.
Stove Safety Tips
- Keep the stove top clean because the buildup of grease can create a fire hazard.
- Do not use your stove to heat your home. It is not designed for that purpose and you not only risk starting a fire, but also create a danger of carbon monoxide poisoning.