Whether heating your oven or keeping you warm in winter by powering your boiler, a dedicated gas supply can be a great help around the house. However, the use of all household and industrial gas systems will contain inherent risks. One of the most serious of these risks is the threat of gas leaks.
A gas leak occurs when gas escapes from any sort of containment, such as storage cylinders or piping. Once free, it can decompress and spread rapidly within an enclosed environment such as a kitchen. Although smaller gas leaks are not usually immediately dangerous to people, they should still be treated as a serious threat. Carbon Monoxide can eventually build up through leaks and escaped gas can prove to be a fire hazard through flammability.
It can be difficult to detect. The types of gas used in household fuel are typically colourless and sometimes odourless. The most obvious sign of a gas leak is usually a malfunctioning boiler or cooker. More serious leaks can also be detected through a specialised carbon monoxide alarm or through hearing a hissing noise from punctured piping. Some (if not most) companies now add odour to their gas to make it detectable in the event of an emergency. A flickering pilot light is the best sign that your boiler is not drawing enough gas.
What Might be Creating the Problem?
A domestic gas leak is most commonly caused by defective, poorly installed, poorly maintained, or ageing gas appliances and piping. Older and second-hand cookers and boilers present a particular risk, due to part attrition. The most common route through which gas will escape is the connecting seals that are meant to trap gas during transfer between the mains, piping, and appliances.
Improperly plumbed piping or a broken seal can result in a hole, allowing gas to escape easily. Likewise, other household disasters such as flooding and structural damage may cause pipes to break.
What are the Possible Consequences of a Gas Leak?
If your seals, appliances, or piping leak unchecked for a long enough period of time you can end up in a state of emergency. This means that there is enough ambient gas in your building to pose a risk to either breathing or to have the potential for spontaneous ignition.
Carbon Monoxide poisoning can kill silently and quickly through blocking your lungs and stopping your ability to turn oxygen into fuel for your body. If you feel faint, dizzy, nauseous, have a sudden headache, feel confused, are struggling to breathe, or are otherwise in pain with no apparent cause it could indicate that Carbon Monoxide has escaped into your house.
You should vacate the building immediately and seek immediate medical attention as well. Likewise, most modern buildings have a carbon monoxide detector fitted. If it sounds the alarm you should shut the gas off at the lever and leave as soon as is possible. Poorly ventilated houses and enclosed spaces are those most at risk.
Ignition can also occur if the escaped gas is exposed to an open flame or sparks, such as those from your electrics and electrical appliances. Depending on the size of the leak, sudden ignition can cause effects ranging from surface fires to devastating explosions. If the gas is coming in from a large and constant leak, an unsealed fault being ignited can inflame the main gas line. This can have absolutely catastrophic results for your property and any surrounding buildings.
What Should I Check to be Safe from Gas Leaks?
To avoid falling victim to a gas leak a proactive prevention plan is key. Make sure to regularly inspect your appliances, seals, and piping for any signs of damage. All appliances that draw gas should also be installed and serviced by a safety-accredited engineer.
Most professionals will also be able to detect gas leaks in an inspection of your gas system. You should also buy a good-quality, audible Carbon Monoxide alarm and install it close to where you use gas for heating or cooking. Make sure that it is tested and that its batteries are changed regularly. If you use compressed gas canisters at all, they should be securely stored in a hospitable place.
Amateur gas work can lead to holes and flaws developing in your system and may also be illegal in your state. You should not attempt to fix a leaking system by yourself unless you are fully qualified.
If you suspect that you have a gas leak you should not light any naked flames. These include small sources of fire, such as matches and lighters. Don't leave your gas and electricity running before your building has been fully checked and repaired and any problems found with gas leaks in the inspection are resolved.