Natural Gas Leaks: Know How To Spot One And What To Do Next

Natural gas is widely used in U.S. homes for heating and cooking, but gas leaks are abundant—especially in older homes where copper lines haven't been replaced yet by aluminum or plastic. How do you know if you have a gas leak in or near your home? What do you do if you find one?

Look for the signs of trouble.

Gas leaks are common around appliances, like stoves, water heaters, and dryers, and they are often caused by human error, like failing to install the appliance properly. An appliance or gas pipe leading that is simply old and worn down is another common cause. If the gas leak is inside your home, you'll most likely pick up on the faint odor of rotten eggs, which is from the mercaptan that the utility company adds to the otherwise odorless natural substance.

Gas leaks just outside of homes are also common, especially around meters that are old or have been improperly grounded. Since those leaks are in the open air, you may not be able to smell the mercaptan. Instead, look for visible signs of dust being blown around near the pipe or bubbling in any water that's pooled around the pipe. Also, be alert for hissing or whistling sounds. Even a slow leak will kill the vegetation it's near, so look for dead grass or plants near your gas line.

Take proper precautions when you respond.

If you suspect a leak, open the windows and the doors to your house to reduce the presence of any natural gas inside. Then, leave the area before you call for assistance. You don't want to operate any personal electronics, including your cell phone, near a gas leak. A static charge could ignite the gas. Similarly, don't get into your car to drive away from the house—a spark from your engine could also cause an explosion.

Once you're a safe distance away—at the very least, across the street—call 911 and let the operator know that you have a gas leak. The gas company or fire department will try to locate the leak and shut it down. 

Call an emergency plumber for repairs.

The gas company does not repair the pipe for you. For that, you'll need an emergency plumber to either repair the existing line or replace it. If the issue is just a loose connection, you may end up only spending a little more than the cost of the service call. If the pipe is damaged or degraded, however, you can expect to pay somewhere between $260-$732 for the job.

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