Well… Natural gas cannot be smelled in its original form because it is odorless. Gas companies add some chemical compounds that are harmless but have a sulfur-like odor so that we can recognize possible gas hazards. We smelled such an odor in our home last evening. We immediately opened the windows and doors and then called the emergency line (800-700-2443) of the Texas Gas Service. A lady picked up the phone. When I told her that we were smelling a gas odor in a particular area of the house, she replied that this was an emergency situation and we needed to do the followings.
We went outside immediately. Good that there is a closet near the front-door where we all keep our jackets, caps, and shoes. It was cold outside. We picked up our jackets to protect ourselves from the cold. Given that Dear Son had not eaten his dinner and we did not know how long it would take, we quickly grabbed some cookies and a bottle of water.
The technician came. I went inside the house with the technician. Dear Son and Dear Wife were waiting outside. The technician had a long stick on top of which there was a sensor that could detect gas. He checked all possible areas but no gas was detected. There was no gas-leak. The technician told us that the detector he was using can even detect gas three feet under the ground. That indicated that there was no leak. The odor was gone by that time because we opened the windows.
There was a bathroom near the area where we smelled the odor. The technician told us that the odor could be methane (sewer gas) produced by the sewerage system of the house. Methane has a sulfur-like odor like the city gas. However, that kind of methane gas comes out only if the pipes are not drained regularly. We informed the technician that we had rarely used the bathroom near that corridor in last six months. The technician suggested that we turn on the taps of the unused bathrooms for two/three minutes to drain the pipes once or twice every month. That will make sure that methane gas is not accumulated in the pipes.
The technician of the Texas Gas Service told us to call the company immediately if we smell that odor again.
The question remains, what to do if we smell gas in our home. Based on some research, we have come up with the following tasks one needs to do after smelling a gas odor in home.
Putting out cigarettes right away
There is no question of keeping sparks around. Everyone who smokes must put out cigarettes right away if someone smells a gas odor in home. Anyway, it is better not to smoke at all but that is a different topic of discussion.
No turning off or turning on anything
Switches may snap and spark if we turn them on or off. Electrical sparks may cause fire if gas is surrounding the area. It is better not to do anything to the switches when there is a gas odor. Dear Wife told me that she read this before but still she instinctively turned on all the lights, turned off the kitchen exhaust fan and the space heater, without worrying much about the hazards. These are big no-no.
Let us not light a match
When there is a gas odor there is no question of lighting a match, candle, or stove. Cooking or a candle light dinner has to be postponed regardless of how hungry we are.
Please do not push the doorbell
We may be tempted to use the doorbell of our neighbors if we want to call them out due to gas hazards. A big Noooo to that. This is because the switch is outside but the bell that rings is inside the house which may create a spark and cause a fire if gas is surrounding the bell.
Let us not use the garage opener
Opening the garage, staying in the car, and bringing the car outside might seem like a smart idea in a cold evening. However, the garage door opener is a switch that turns on electrical circuits. Additionally, the garage door may have enough friction to create some sparks. Please avoid garage door openers when you smell gas odor in your home. Also, we would avoid turning on the ignition of the car.
We will not use the phone inside the house
A major mistake I did last evening was that I called the gas company when I was inside the house. When there is a gas odor in home, the phone call must be made after going outside. Even a cell phone can create a spark, which may cause a disaster when there is natural gas in the air.
Go outside and wait for the responder
Go outside and maintain a good distance from the house. Call the utility company from outside. Wait for the investigator to arrive. Do not go inside the house before the investigator informs you that it is safe to go inside.
Concluding remarks: It is better to leave the cause of the odor to the experts. We could not really identify what caused that sulfur odor — natural gas or methane. It is better to be safe than sorry. Please keep a list of emergency numbers in your phone’s contact list. That will save a few minutes of searching the correct number in the internet while you are outside. A few minutes is a lot during emergencies. It is better to be prepared than to get overwhelmed at the last minute. Here is a nice handout from El Paso Fire Department and Texas Gas that says what to do in case of a gas odor: Link.
We are thinking of making an emergency backpack for such events, hoping we won’t have to use the bag ever 🙂 . Let us know if you have suggestions regarding gas emergencies. Stay safe everyone.