Natural Gas Safety: Gas Smell in the HomeAre you concerned of a gas smell in the home? With the rise of natural gas as a main source of home heating and many other applications such as gas stoves, gas fireplaces, as well as indoor fire pits, natural gas safety is not a negligible issue.  Understanding natural gas safety in the home should be something every home resident that uses natural gas has reviewed as a family and adequately planned for. In this article, we will take a look at what natural gas smells like in a house when it is leaking as well as what to expect as a proper natural gas exhaust odor. We will also examine where that nasty egg smell comes from, and what to do if you have a natural gas leak in the house.

What Does Gas Smell in the Home Smell Like?

Most people are familiar with that sulfuric egg smell.  Others ask about smells similar to kerosene.  Natural gas smell in the house primarily depends on if it has been properly combusted or not. Non-combusted natural gas is of major concern due to the risk of explosion or asphyxiation.  Combusted natural gas is much safer but still poses an asphyxiation hazard without proper ventilation. First, we will look at the smell of combusted natural gas, with its concerns and safety needs.  Then we will dive deeper into a potential gas leak, and it’s concerns and safety practices.

Why Do Natural Gas Heaters Smell Like Kerosene?

What if your natural gas heater smells like kerosene? This can be common in vent-less gas fireplaces, gas stoves, gas furnaces, or indoor fire pits.  The reason is due to an additive put into natural gas to alert in case of a leak.  When this additive is combusted, it can give off the kerosene smell, which could be likened to an oily or burning candle smell. This exhaust is typically not of concern in small amounts.  Proper home ventilation will naturally purge any exhaust before it becomes an issue.  Having a carbon monoxide sensor and always keeping some air movement should always be in place when you use natural gas in the home. If the smell of kerosene or an oily or waxy smell becomes strong, it may be a sign that you do not have proper ventilation.  This could lead to headaches, dizziness, or asphyxiation.  If you are concerned that the smell is strong, it may be wise to call an HVAC professional to make sure your house is adequately vented.

What Does Gas Smell Like When It Is Leaking?

What does a gas leak smell like in a house? Many people say that natural gas smells like rotten eggs. Others say it’s like a skunk, a dead animal, or even a very intense garlic odor.  If you detect these smells in the home, do not ignore them! This rotten-egg-smell gas leak is of real concern.  Gas providers make sure you can smell it to help avert a disaster.

gas leak rotten egg smell

Rotten-egg-smell gas leak, image by Valerie Everett

What Is Added to Natural Gas to Make It Smell?

To make natural gas smell, odorants are added.  Natural gas is odorless, colorless, and tasteless.  Without natural gas odorants, you would never realize there was a leak until a potentially harmful situation were to develop.  According to safegas.org, the principal odorizing chemical used is mercaptan.  This sulfur-based chemical is easily detected by the human nose and alerts us of the potential danger.

Is Natural Gas Dangerous?

Safegas.org correctly states that natural gas is safe.  However, even the most harmless substances can have detrimental effects when systems break. Take water for example.  No one would say that water is unsafe.  However, when there is too much humidity in the home due to improper ventilation or a water leak, black mold can grow and result in serious health concerns.  The Atlantic pointed out that, while 450 die in the United States each year from falling out of bed, only 17 people die from natural gas pipeline leaks. I don’t think we are ready to classify going to bed as dangerous. Likewise, natural gas would not be classified as dangerous.

That clarified, proper precautions should always be in place for any fuel, even safe ones such as natural gas.  With natural gas, three main hazards could result due to a leak or accumulated exhaust:

  1. Asphyxiation: Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is considered biologically inert and non-toxic. However, it does replace the normal atmospheric oxygen. Too much displacement can lead to feeling light-headed, dizzy, headaches, or even death by asphyxiation. Most people would be repulsed by the intense rotten egg smell before this happened, but special care should be used in homes of the elderly or infirmed.
  2. Toxicity: Natural gas does contain small amounts of toxic gases such as carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide. These are very minute and usually considered too minimal to be a danger. Thus, natural gas is generally classified as non-toxic.  However, some people are more sensitive to carbon monoxide or hydrogen sulfide than others, and accumulation could happen if not adequately ventilated.
  3. Fire or explosion: Safegas.com notes that natural gas has a “very limited range of flammability.” If a flame is very near the source of the leak, it could ignite the gas at the leak. Also, if the gas leak accumulates due to a large leak and no ventilation, it could result in an explosion.

What to Do If Your House Smells Like Gas

Have you asked what to do if you smell gas in your home? Here is a bullet list from UGI EnergyLink that outlines the steps to be taken:

  • Don’t do anything that could cause a spark. This includes flipping a light switch, unplugging electrical devices or using a phone (landline or cell).
  • Put out anything currently burning. This includes snuffing out cigarettes and blowing out candles. Don’t light a match, a stove, or cigarette lighter if you suspect a gas leak.
  • Open windows and doors to let fresh air inside.
  • Turn off the gas supply at the meter and keep it off until deemed safe to turn back on.
  • Standing a safe distance away from your home, call 911 and your gas provider.

It is always best to check with your natural gas provider, and make sure you follow their safety advise and gas leak protocol. This will ensure you are properly protected from a disaster.

Who Do You Call for a Gas Leak?

If you have a natural gas smell in the house, you need to be ready with whom to call.  If you smell gas in the home, that rotten egg smell, you probably have a leak, and you should not ignore it.  As mentioned above, there are two numbers you should call.  First and foremost, call 911.  They will direct you with immediate actions for your safety and alert any life-safety personnel that may be required.

Secondly, call your gas provider.  They will walk you through any actions you can take to stop the leak and mitigate the risk immediately.  They will also verify that you have taken proper steps to ensure your safety.

Milestone Companies takes safety seriously.  While our work environment requires construction site safely, we also want to do our part in the safety of every natural gas consumer by promoting safe natural gas use practices. Follow our blog to read more about natural gas safety and other interesting articles.