Smelling gas, whether it’s propane or natural gas, can be a frightening experience. We’ve all heard the dangers and risks associated with breathing gas. Unfortunately, you can’t always detect the source or leave your house for extended periods of time.
So, if your house smells like gas but there’s no leak, what do you do? Follow these steps:
- Open all of the windows around your house and turn on the fans to ventilate the area.
- If the smell remains and is consistent, evacuate your house.
- Call a professional to come out and detect whether gas is actually present or not.
- Have them locate the source and turn off the gas line heading to it.
- Hire someone to repair the leak.
- Test their work before heading back inside.
Throughout this article, you’ll also learn what causes gas smells, what you should do, warnings and risks, and whether it is unhealthy to live in a home that smells like gas.
What Causes a Gas Smell in a House?
You should never smell gas in your house. If you do, something’s wrong. Even if you’ve checked all of the possible sources, you’re still not safe to relax and forget about it. The pungent odor is enough to drive many homeowners out of their house, but the toxicity of carbon monoxide is life-threatening.
Here are five main causes of gas smells around your home:
- If you live in an apartment and you’ve checked all of your pipes and lines for leaks, then you likely have a neighbor with a gas problem. You should call the maintenance desk immediately to have it looked at. If they’re not available, call your local city’s phone number to request emergency gas services.
- Sulfur is often the cause of a gas smell in homes without gas leaks. It smells identical to the foul rotten odor of gas leaks, but it’s not nearly as harmful in this case. Bacteria found in sewage systems or your kitchen sink release sulfur over time, causing the smell to permeate your home. Use bleach and water to flush your sink.
- You might’ve not checked everything. It’s nearly impossible to locate a leaky gas line without using meters and other instruments. Unless you’re a gas-detecting professional, you should call someone to help you out. It might seem fine to let it be once you’ve done your work, but chances are that the leak is somewhere in the wall.
- There might be a sewage drain ruptured near your home. As you read above, sulfur is released by bacteria that dwell in sewage pipes. If one bursts under or around your house, then that foul smell will find its way into your house. Call an inspector to investigate the issue.
- Hot water heaters can often harbor bacteria. If you smell gas when you turn on the heater, it might be the sulfur burning up rather than a gas leak. Bacteria require darkness, warmth, and moisture to thrive, all of which are present in hot water heaters when they’re left alone for too long.
What Do You Do if You Smell Gas in Your Home?
Although there are plenty of causes for a foul smell that aren’t related to carbon monoxide leaks, you should still take the necessary precautions to protect yourself. You can call for help, purchase a detector, or start cleaning your sink.
Here’s a list of additional options to try when you smell gas in your home:
- Call a professional to come to investigate. Nothing beats having someone who knows what they’re doing to look around your home. Even if they determine that everything’s safe, peace of mind is often well worth the money. You might even save your own life with a simple phone call.
- Open all windows and turn on any house, floor, and ceiling fans that you have. Proper ventilation will prevent carbon monoxide from building up, though it’s not a surefire way to guarantee your safety. This suggestion is useful when you’re waiting for help to arrive.
- Never turn on burners or spark a flame anywhere in your house. You can cause serious injuries or worse. Carbon monoxide is virtually scentless, but it’s infused with mercaptan to create a foul odor so you can be notified of its presence. When you smell the rotten odor, it’s time to turn off any heat source.
- If you know where they’re located, turn off the gas lines around your house. You can close each valve to limit the supply of gas to every appliance. This process also allows you to figure out if the leak is before or after each gas valve. Turn one off, smell around your house, and repeat until you find the leaking valve.
- Finally, evacuation is the most effective way to protect you and your family from harm. Carbon monoxide explosions can engulf a house in flames in a matter of seconds. If the smell is strong, you shouldn’t try to figure it out by yourself. Call emergency services and report the problem immediately.
As you can see, there are plenty of methods that you could try out. Unfortunately, none of them are guaranteed to stop the smell other than calling a professional. When they find the source and repair the leak, you’ll be safe to reenter your home.
Health Risks and Warnings
There’s no doubt that carbon monoxide is dangerous. It causes hundreds of injuries every year, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). Rather than dealing with the risks involved, you should exit your home and call emergency services. However, you can still review the risks if you’re concerned.
Here are the most common health problems associated with carbon monoxide:
- Fatigue is often a sign that carbon monoxide is present. It’s known to be related to gas leaks because it slowly deprives you of oxygen, causing your body to work overtime to get the amount that it needs. If you always feel tired, there’s a small chance that you’re dealing with a CO leak.
- Without proper oxygen flowing through your body, carbon monoxide can cause death. About 400 people per year pass away from carbon monoxide in the U.S. alone, says a report from the NSC. Propane and natural gas, the two most common types, both contain carbon monoxide.
- You could lose your sense of smell. When you’re around carbon monoxide too often, it can damage your nose, removing your ability to smell. You can also go ‘nose blind’ to CO, meaning you can no longer smell when it’s present. Not only is it frustrating, but it can prevent you from being notified of a gas leak.
- Nausea is another common symptom of breathing in too much carbon monoxide. Combined with the aforementioned fatigue possibility, these warning signs are a huge indicator that it’s time to visit a doctor and call someone to repair the leak.
- A study performed by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide during a leak can lead to heart problems later on in life. You might not have any symptoms now, but they can come back and create serious life-threatening issues down the road.
How Do You Know if It’s Sulfur or Carbon Monoxide?
Sulfur isn’t nearly as harmful as carbon monoxide, but it can cause numerous annoyances. For example, breathing or ingesting sulfur can cause diarrhea, irritation in the throat and eyes, and excessive coughing from lung itchiness. According to the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC), sulfur is of low toxicity to humans.
The best way to figure out if the smell is coming from carbon monoxide or sulfur is to have a pro come out. Unfortunately, that’s not always a possibility. Cleaning your sewage pipes, sinks, toilets, and other waste outlets can remove sulfur from your home. Use a mixture of bleach and water to get rid of the bacteria that causes it.
Carbon monoxide is incredibly dangerous to your health, so you should try to stick around for too long. Whether you’re getting away from the smell, lightheadedness, or potential fire hazards, calling 911 (or your local emergency service phone number) is the safest course of action.
Remember that sulfur can cause a similar smell to carbon monoxide. If you don’t have a gas leak in your home, then sulfur from bacteria in sewage lines could be the cause of the pungent odor. Another possibility is a gas leak at a neighbor’s home or a city line that’s burst around your house. Proper ventilation and evacuation are key to your well-being.