One of the most dangerous problems you can have in your home is leaking natural gas. To start with, natural gas is colorless and odorless (unless chemically altered) which makes it hard to notice the leak and the source.
Not only is natural gas a danger to you and your family, but to the property as well and sometimes to your neighbors as well. You should therefore act fast if there is gas leaking in your house.
If there is gas leaking in your house, locate the main shut off valve at the meter and turn it off then contact a licensed plumber to locate the source of the leak and fix it. If the leak is bad or you can’t turn off the gas, call 911 or your local gas company and leave the house immediately.
In most of the cases, gas leaks in the house are not too obvious and you may not notice you have a leak unless you know where to look.
The signs of leaking gas in the house are a rotten eggs smell, hissing sounds, dying plants, air bubbles outside your house, higher than normal gas usage and discolored flames. In humans, exposure to the gas will result in headaches, nausea, fatigue, dizziness and irregular breathing.
Gas leaks can happen either inside or outside the house. You can tell the location of the leak by investigating where the rotten eggs smell is strongest, or by checking which plants are dying, those inside and those outside the house.
Gas Leak Costs
The cost to fix a small gas leak is about $100 but the average range is between $150 and $700. Expect to pay more (up to $2000) if the leak is in an inaccessible place like an underground supply pipe which will need ground excavation and pipe replacement.
You should never attempt to tape a gas leak. Duct tape, electrical tape and other types of tapes cannot seal off gas and you are better off shutting it off and calling a licensed plumber. However, the LLFA tape seals natural gas leaks but few homeowners are likely to have it at home.
If you have a gas leak in your home and you turn off the supply, a plumber can fix it the same day. However, if you call the utility company and they turn it off for you, it can take a few days to have the leak fixed, tested and inspected in order for the gas to be turned back on
You as the homeowner are responsible for the gas leak on your side of the meter while the gas company is responsible for leaks on their side of the meter. This means that gas leaks are your responsibility from the meter to the house.
In simpler terms, if there is a gas leak between the gas meter and the house, the homeowner pays for the repair. If the leak is from the meter towards the street, the gas company fixes the leak at their cost.
This is to mean that even if you call the gas company when you have a leak, they will just turn off the gas but will not fix the problem. They may not even try to find the location of the leak.
Signs of Gas Leak in the House
Unless you have a severe case of a gas leak, most leaks are not that obvious. So, how can you tell if you have leaking gas in your home?
The following are some of the signs of gas leaks:
1. Rotten Eggs Smell
Natural gas as I have already mentioned is odorless and colorless. That makes it dangerous since there is no way of detecting if it is leaking.
To prevent that from happening, gas companies usually add a sulfur-based compound to the gas which gives it a sulfur or rotten eggs smell. That makes it very easy to detect in case of leaks.
I will however like to say that if there is a rotten eggs smell in the bathroom only then you most likely have a problem with your drainage and not an issue with the natural gas. Check out more on that in this post.
2. Higher-Than-Normal Gas Usage
Most homeowners can tell their normal natural gas usage in a given period of time. If you notice that your usage is way higher than is the norm, you most likely have a leaking gas line.
In some of the cases this could be happening in an underground or outside gas line which is not easy to find.
It could also be a slow leak and one which is hard to detect but remember that a slow leak in a period of about 30 days is actually a lot of leaked gas.
In a nutshell, if your recent natural gas bills are abnormally higher than old ones and if you have not changed your habits (of gas usage) then you most likely have a leak.
3. Hissing Sounds
There are different types of hissing sounds. There is the one you will hear if one of your water pipes is leaking but a hissing sound as a result of a gas leak is very distinct.
It is the same sound you would hear if you turn on the stove gas knob but fail to ignite.
A hissing sound as a result of a leaking gas pipe means that the leak is a major one and you need to act fast.
4. Air Bubbles from the Ground
It is not easy to detect a leaking underground gas pipe nut. Sometimes you will be lucky if you know where to look or what to do.
If there is standing water just above the path of the natural gas pipe to the house and you happen to see air bubbles forming in the water, you most likely have a leaking gas line.
If you suspect the main line to the house is leaking and you know where it enters the house, you can pour water along its path and check if you will find any bubbles.
5. Dying Plants
Do you have plants inside or outside the house that have been very healthy but are now wilting or just looking stunted? Natural gas could be the cause.
As you already know, plants need oxygen to grow and just remain fresh. Presence of natural gas prevents the plant roots from taking in the much needed oxygen resulting in wilting and even eventually drying off.
Outside the house you may notice yellow patches of grass, wilting plants or trees with leaves that are smaller than usual.
6. Feeling Sick
Do you or a member of your family vomit in the morning everyday but that was not always the case before? You may have a gas leak in your house that is making you sick.
Depending on exposure levels, people react differently to natural gas.
Some of the symptoms you are likely to have when exposed to low levels of natural gas are:
- Irregular breathing
When you are exposed to high levels of natural gas, you may have severe headaches, loss of consciousness and suffocation.
Some people are even allergic to the chemical added to the natural gas (for ease of detection). When that is the case you will have flu-like symptoms.
How to Fix a Natural Gas Leak
So what do you do if you have a gas leak in the house? Well, it will depend on the severity of the leak.
The following are the steps to follow if you have a gas leak in your house:
1. Turn off the Gas at the Meter
The first thing you should do when you notice that there is gas leaking in your house is to turn off the supply of natural gas at the meter. The meter will be located outside the house but it could also be located inside the house.
At the meter, look for the shut off valve which in most cases is on the main supply line just before the meter’s dial.
When the shut off valve is open, the little handle will be in line or parallel to the gas supply line. To turn it off, you will need to turn it by a ¼ so that it is perpendicular to the gas supply pipe.
The natural gas shut off valve does not have a big handle like the one in your water shut off valve. You will therefore need to use a pair of pliers or channel locks to help you turn off the valve.
Just knowing your shut off valve is and knowing how to turn it off will save you a lot of money. I will tell you why that is the case later.
2. Call the Plumber
Once you have turned off the supply of natural gas to the house, pick up the phone and call a licensed plumber. This is especially important if you do not know the exact location of the leak.
Plumbers have lots of tools and equipment which they use to locate the leak, fix it and then test the lines to make sure that the whole line is no longer leaking.
It is very hard for the average homeowner to do that on their own. Needless to say, you can end up making the problem worse than (and dangerous) than it was.
3. Leave the House
If natural gas is leaking from your house pretty fast, or if you do not know where or how to turn off the gas to the house, evacuate everyone from the house including pets and call the gas company or 911.
It is very important to follow instructions here. Don’t make the call while still in the house. Leave the house and only then should you make the call.
Another thing not to do is to open the garage door or even start your car. All these actions can ignite the gas and easily cause a fire in the house.
Remember to leave the house doors open for fresh air to circulate in and outside the house. You do not want the natural gas to build up in the house.
Consider warning your neighbors as well.
Again, if you cannot turn off gas to the house, call 911 or the actual gas company. Don’t call the plumber in this case.
The problem here is if for instance you call the gas company, they will come over to the house and shut the gas for you but not fix it. They will let you call a plumber and have it fixed, tested and inspected and only then can they come to turn it on for you.
That whole process can take a few days depending on where you live. Needless to say, that will be very costly and inconvenient for you.
As I said, the best thing is usually to turn off the gas yourself and then call the plumber. You can have the plumber fix the leak in a matter of hours.
4. Fix it Yourself
In certain instances, you can easily fix a gas leak by yourself. If the leak is a slow one and you know the exact position or you think you can find it, go ahead and fix it.
To indeed be sure that the leak is where you think it is, spread soap bubbles and check if that is where the leak is. This mostly happen around nuts which have become loose over time.
In that case you can simply grab a channel lock or wrench and gently tighten the nut. Again, be gentle on the nut. It doesn’t need to be excessively tight.
There are tapes like the LLFA tapes which can be used to fix leaks in gas lines temporarily. I would however advise that you get a plumber to fix the leak permanently and also check if there are more risks in your gas lines and appliances.
And that is how to fix a gas leak in a house.