Though high volume hydraulic fracturing, or “hydro-fraking,” to recover natural gas deposits in shale formations is a highly controversial issue with regards to its safety and environmental impacts, when it comes to the use of natural gas to heat your home, there is much less controversy.
THE SAFETY OF NATURAL GAS
Natural gas is a versatile, clean-burning fuel with an excellent safety record, favored by cooks everywhere. In fact, natural gas is often used not only to heat homes and cook meals, but it’s also used to heat household water, dry clothes, and even start a fire in the fireplace with the flip of a switch.
In its natural state, this non-toxic, colorless, tasteless and odorless gas (its odor is added as an olfactory warning of leakage) possesses a very narrow range of flammability, allowing for combustion only in concentrations of 4 to 15 percent per volume of air. Because it is lighter than air, allowing it to dissipate rapidly, accidental combustion is unlikely and its ignition temperature (1100 °F) is quite high – nearly twice that of gasoline.
All of these factors work together to make natural gas a generally accepted safe form of fuel for home use and for heating, but not completely without risk – especially if it is not used properly and safely inside your home.
NATURAL GAS: RISKS
Like all energy sources, natural gas’s risks must be managed to ensure its safe and efficient use. The biggest risks to safe home use of natural gas are those posed by gas leaks.
Gas leaks usually happen as a result of faulty appliances or loose connections, and issues with service lines both inside and outside a home. These gas leaks are dangerous, because the presence of undetected gas in your home can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, fire, or possibly an explosion.
DO YOU SMELL SOMETHING?
This is why utility companies add the sulphury “rotten egg” scent to their gas, as an effective early warning sign. Other warning signs include hissing sounds and potential signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning like:
Loss of consciousness
If you’re using natural gas inside your home, it’s a good idea to install a carbon monoxide detector near your utility room to help decrease your family’s risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU SUSPECT A GAS LEAK
If you ever smell gas or suspect a gas leak in your home, take the following precautions immediately:
Do not attempt to locate gas leaks.
If the gas odor is strong or you hear a hissing noise, leave your home immediately. Do not use telephones of any type inside the home, including cordless, cell or landline.
Exit your home, getting a safe distance away, to call the fire department and have your suspicions professionally confirmed or cleared.
Do not turn on or off any battery-powered, rechargeable or electrical device that could create a spark, including phones, garage door opener, radios, TVs, or computers.
Do not turn on or off any lights or electrical switches, or unplug any appliances.
Do not use elevators.
Do not operate vehicles or power equipment where leaking gas is suspected.
Do not smoke or use lighters, matches or other open flames.
Be sure to ventilate your home immediately by opening doors and windows.
Remember, prevention is key in managing risk. Here are some tips to help minimize natural gas hazards in your home:
Regularly inspect your furnace or boiler.
Keep heat registers and cold-air returns clean.
Make sure your fireplace flue is clean and open.
Check air filters every one to two months, replacing or cleaning if necessary.
Inspect all gas appliances like stoves and clothes dryers for signs of wear or leaks like yellow flame, soot, or overheating. Check and remove any lint buildup in your dryer hose.
Have your gas appliances and furnace checked annually by a qualified professional.
Avoid using or storing paint stripper, laundry products, adhesives, or roadway ice salt in or around your furnace.