Do you suspect a gas leak in your home? First of all, Get everyone out of the house immediately and call 911. You’ll need to also call an emergency plumbing service. A true gas leak creates a dangerous situation.
Natural gas is an important part of our everyday lives – it’s used to heat our homes, cook our food, and power our appliances. But when a gas line leaks, it can pose a serious threat to your health and safety.
Assuming you’re not dealing with a gas leak emergency, let’s discuss how a plumber finds a gas leak.
In this PlumbingNav guide, we will cover:
- Things you need to know about residential gas leaks
- How to prevent a gas leak in your home
- How plumbers find gas leaks
- What to do if you have a gas leak
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Things You Need to Know About Residential Gas Leaks
Many homes have appliances that use natural gas. These include a gas water heater, gas furnace and air conditioner, and gas stove.
Each gas appliance connects to your home’s gas plumbing system. This consists of a supply gas line that provides gas from your main gas supply line to a home’s gas appliances. There is also ventilation piping that transfers emitted gas outside of your house.
Many homeowners are often setup to use both gas and electric, but in some parts of the country electric service is all that’s available. In this case, you might pay a private company to hook up and deliver natural gas or propane. This is particularly true for those living “off the grid.”
Overall, natural gas offers a convenient, inexpensive fuel solution making it the top fuel choice in the country. Most homes have preexisting gas lines and local gas service, and it’s the cheapest option. Why upgrade? While natural gas tends to be cheaper, the price can also increase quickly and unpredictably.
Propane costs more and may require more effort from the homeowner, but it produces more energy, burns more slowly, and utilizes more eco-friendly manufacturing practices. Plus, 95% of the propane used in America is produced on American soil.
This means we can support US manufacturers instead of relying on everchanging foreign relationships and supporting another country’s economy. That said, we do produce a lot of natural gas here as well.
One thing that natural gas and propane both have in common is that they don’t produce a smell, making a leaking gas line especially hard to detect. In the case of a leak, natural gas is slightly safer than propane. This is why manufacturers add mercaptan for better leak detection.
Here is a video explaining this:
Some people think the carbon monoxide detector will inform them of a gas leak. However, it’s important to note that carbon monoxide is a different gas. Most carbon monoxide detectors, especially older ones, won’t detect a gas leak – only a carbon monoxide leak.
How a Plumber Finds a Gas Leak
There are several ways that professional plumbers perform leak detection, finding the location of a gas leak.
One way is to use a handheld chemical detector. This equipment is designed to detect the presence of methane and other gases in the air. The gas leak detector only detects gas in the immediate vicinity, but they are easy to use and can be affordable.
Another way to find a gas leak is to use an infrared sewer camera. A plumber will feed this camera into your pipes to visually see heat, which can be used to pinpoint the exact location of gas leaks in your pipes.
While the best sewer cameras can help you see the inside of your pipes, which is fine for water leak detection or determining the location of a drain clog, they won’t be able to see a small, invisible gas leak, making the infrared feature necesarry.
See the following video to learn more about using infrared cameras to detect gas leaks:
What To Do If You Think You Have A Gas Leak
There are several signs that may indicate a gas leak, outside of an increasing gas bill. You may smell a faint rotten egg smell. Just a note, you might smell a faint rotten egg smell when hot water is running, but this is different.
You may hear a hissing or whistling sound near a gas line. Or you may see dead or dying vegetation in an otherwise green area.
If you notice any of these signs, don’t delay in taking action – a gas leak can be very dangerous.
Leave the area and call your gas company or 911 from a safe location. They will help connect you with an emergency service that can resolve the situation.
If it’s a non-emergency, and 911 deems it safe to proceed you can also:
Open all the doors and windows to ventilate the area.
Extinguish any open flames, such as candles or pilot lights.
Additionally, turn off any appliances, gas-powered or electric, that are in the affected area. If you have access to the shut-off valve near the gas meter, shut off the gas supply to the entire house.
The Dangers Of A Natural Gas Leak
When a gas line leak occurs, the fumes can be inhaled, leading to health problems like headaches, dizziness, nausea, and respiratory problems. In extreme cases, gas leaks can even cause death by carbon monoxide poisoning.
If you manage to come out of a gas leak safe and healthy, you still have to face the reality of the large gas bill when it comes.
Did You Know? It’s estimated that in Massachusetts alone, gas leaks cost tax payers $90 million annually.
Common Causes of Gas Leaks
Gas leaks can occur for a variety of reasons, including age, corrosion, damage from construction work, blockage, or faulty installation.
In general, gas lines are usually made from black steel. Black steel offers strength and durability. However, it will eventually succumb to corrosion. You may also find gas piping made from galvanized steel or copper, but that’s less common.
Galvanized steel doesn’t hold up as well as black steel. While copper pipes can be used for propane, it’s not approved for natural gas in most places. The UPC has changed it’s mind on the type of copper pipe required for gas, so many simply avoid it even where allowed.
Like your drain line, your gas line can actually experience blockage due to dirt, debris, and other material accumulating in the pipe lines.
A clog can put more pressure on the pipe material, leading to a cause, especially if working with old pipes already weakened by corrosion or wear and tear.
How To Prevent Gas Leaks In Your Home
By taking some simple precautions, you can help prevent some gas leaks and keep your family safe.
Most gas leaks occur when pipelines are damaged, either by construction work or by heavy storms. You can help prevent gas leaks by being aware of any potential hazards and by reporting any damage to pipeline infrastructure to your local utility company.
You can also help prevent gas leaks by regularly checking the gas lines in your home for any cracks or damage, especially after a bad storm or major construction job.
If you don’t have the equipment or know-how to perform an inspection, you should enlist the help of a licensed plumber. A professional plumber can perform a visual inspection and drain cleaning gas line services to ensure you don’t experience a gas line clog.
The cost of a gas line inspection will be minimal compared to the cost of gas line repair, which varies greatly based on the location of the damaged pipe and how much pipe requires replacement.
If you do find any damage, it’s important to schedule gas leak repair with a professional plumbing service immediately. You cannot work on your own gas lines. It’s too dangerous, and it’s illegal unless you have the proper training and permits.
When you know your pipe lines have reached their life expectancy but don’t see any signs of damage, you should consider replacing the pipes proactively due to the severity of a leak if it occurs.
You can also go with a more traditional new gas line installation by digging trenches, but this will cost more time and money.
FAQs on Gas Leak Detection
Can a carbon monoxide detector detect gas leak?
The majority of carbon monoxide detectors only detect carbon monoxide as it is the more prevalent concern inside your home. However, property owners can upgrade the carbon monoxide detectors to advanced models that also detect gas leaks. An advanced gas and carbon monoxide detector may cost an investment upfront. However, you can’t put a price on peace of mind.
How do you tell if a gas pipe has a leak?
There are a couple of signs to look for if you suspect a gas line has a leak:
- Sulfer smell
- Whistling noise
- Organic decay
Is there a tool to detect a gas leak?
Most plumbers use a chemical test when applicable, as it’s rather easy. However, it won’t be able to inspect pipes buried in your wall or underground. Sometimes, a chemical test isn’t as specific as you’d like, either.
For more advanced inspections, plumbers come equipped with an infrared camera that presents images of heat. Heat indicates a leak.
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