Is My Furnace Leaking Gas?

Gas leaks can be a big problem if left unchecked. They can lead to a variety of issues and pose serious health and safety risks. While you should always call a professional to repair a gas leak, you can usually figure out if you might have one on your own. There are telltale signs and clear indications that present themselves, ranging from odors to health problems. Here are some ways to determine if you have a gas leak and some recommendations on what to do about it.

How to Tell If You Have a Gas Leak

Natural gas furnaces are some of the most common types of furnaces in the United States. If you own one and suspect it might be leaking gas, there are definite signs to watch for. Even if you don’t have a natural gas furnace, most of these warning signs will still apply to a propane system.

Sulfurous Smell

The first warning sign of a gas leak is a sulfurous smell. Pure natural gas is actually odorless, but gas distributors are required to add mercaptan to the product so that a leak can be detected by smell. This added mercaptan gives the gas a sulfurous scent, something similar to rotten eggs. If you have a sulfurous smell in your home that doesn’t seem to have a source, check your furnace first. Sometimes, depending on the location of the leak, the gas can travel through your heating vents and disperse throughout your home. In the case of larger leaks, the smell may be more localized near the furnace itself. Don’t rely entirely on the presence of this scent to determine if you have a gas leak, though. The smell can be hard to detect, especially if there are other odors that might mask it or if you’ve had prolonged exposure to it. Your body can adapt to the smell if the leak has gone on for a long time, and this will make it less noticeable. There are also other natural processes that can cause the odor to be absorbed or diminished, making gas leaks harder to spot by smell alone.

Listen for a Hiss

The next warning sign is hearing any kind of hissing sound near your furnace itself or exposed gas lines. While your furnace is off, listen for any hissing noises coming from these locations. Since gas running through your home’s supply lines is highly pressurized, the escaping substance will usually make an audible hiss if there is a leak somewhere. If you don’t hear anything but still want to make sure, you can also brush soap suds along any exposed piping while the burner is off. If you see the soapy mixture start to bubble in any spot along the gas line, it’s a sign you have a leak. If the source is near the furnace and you look closely around where the sound is coming from, you might also be able to see a cracked or ruptured pipe or connection without using the soap trick.

Dying Plants

Another warning sign is if you have any plants that are starting to die, especially those placed near heating vents. Since it displaces the oxygen in the soil, natural gas interrupts the nutrient absorption in plants. A gas leak could cause your houseplants to slowly start to wither, so if you notice houseplants starting to die with no obvious cause, it could be an indication of a gas leak.

Unexplainable Health Problems

The last and most serious warning sign is adverse health problems. Breathing in natural gas over prolonged periods can be hazardous, especially in rooms with poor ventilation where the gas leak can stagnate. If symptoms do appear, they can start out as something as simple as lightheadedness, dizziness, some mild cold or flu-like symptoms, fatigue, eye and throat irritation, nosebleed, ringing in your ears, decreased appetite, or nausea. More pronounced symptoms can include severe dizziness, confusion, mood changes, and loss of consciousness.

Your pets can be even more sensitive to a gas leak than you are, so keep an eye out for signs of lethargy, difficulty breathing, vomiting, or difficulty walking. If you notice any of these indications, take action immediately and evacuate your home. Health problems are usually signs of a more prolonged or severe gas leak that should be handled by professionals.

What Not to Do if You Suspect a Gas Leak

If you suspect you have a gas leak, there are a few things you definitely should not do when investigating the furnace and areas around your home. Do not use any kind of open flame near the furnace. Don’t light up a cigarette, use a lighter, or light a match. Natural gas is extremely flammable, so any kind of open flame could lead to an explosion if there is a gas leak. Do not use any kind of electronics, turn on light switches, or run any kind of equipment in the room. Any of these things can create a spark that could set off the gas and cause an explosion. Even something as simple as static electricity can spark an explosion if the gas buildup is concentrated enough.

What to Do If You Find a Leak

If you do find signs of a gas leak, you need to evacuate the building. You should leave doors open and provide a way for the gas to escape your home to prevent it from building up even more. While evacuating your residence, don’t touch any electrical devices. You want to avoid causing any sparks, and turning appliances on and off can produce these. If something is on, leave it on, and if something is off, leave it off. Just leave the house immediately.

After you’re safely away from the house, call your gas company and call 911. Your gas company will be able to remotely shut off the gas line to your house to prevent the gas from building up even more. Emergency services will have the ability and authority to secure the area and make sure there’s no peril to others. Between emergency services and your gas company, the trained personnel should be able to address the immediate concerns. Once the danger is taken care of, it’s time to get your furnace assessed and fix the leak.

A Local Resource You Can Trust

If you live in Portage, Three Rivers, Grand Rapids or a nearby area in Michigan and have a gas leak or suspect there is something wrong with your furnace, reach out to us at Bel-Aire Heating & Cooling. We’ll send an expert to diagnose your system. Even if you’re not sure whether you have a leak, deriving the peace of mind from having a qualified professional look it over and tell you that everything checks out is worth the consultation. You can rely on our team at Bel-Aire Heating & Cooling for any maintenance, repair, or installation of any heating, cooling, or indoor air quality equipment you own. We’ve been performing outstanding work and delivering excellent results to people in this region for over six decades. Call us today to schedule a service call.

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