Gas Safety in the Home

Natural Gas Safety

Natural gas has been increasingly installed in homes over the years.  It is a very safe fuel composed mostly of methane, and for safety, an odour is added so that leaks can be detected.  Natural gas is not poisonous, but can cause unconsciousness in high concentrations when it displaces air.

Here are some safety tips if you think you smell natural gas indoors:

  1. Open doors and windows
  2. Do not smoke, light matches, operate electrical switches or create any other source of ignition.
  3. Leave the premises
  4. Turn off your gas meter, if you know how.
  5. Go to a nearby phone and call 9-1-1 and your natural gas utility.

Natural gas is delivered to your house via underground piping.  If you are doing any construction or major landscaping, always “Call Before You Dig.”  Call 1-800-474-6886 or *6886 on your cellular phone to find out the location of the gas piping.  If you do find a ruptured gas line, immediately leave the area and call 9-1-1.

Remember to properly maintain your natural gas appliances.  Check the manufactures recommendations and have a gas contractor check your appliances, vents and combustion air openings regularly to ensure safe and reliable operation.

During the winter, make sure you keep your gas meter clear of snow and ice, and take care in using a snow blower or plow near the meter.  Also keep combustion air inlets clear.  Air is required for safe combustion and proper vent operation.

Propane Gas Safety

Propane is both a liquid and a gas.  When put under pressure, such as in a tank or pipe, propane becomes a liquid. 
Once the pressure is released, it instantly turns to gas.  Propane is very portable and many of us have bottled propane at home for barbequing and camping. 

 Here are some tips for propane safety:

  • Always keep the cylinders upright.
  • Close valves completely when not in use.
  • Keep your face away from valves and wear gloves when handling.
  • Store cylinders in a protected, well-ventilated, above-ground place, not indoors.
  • If a cylinder is damaged, or is over 10 years old, replace it.

If you are using a propane tank or cylinder for your recreational vehicle (RV):

  • Transport tanks or cylinders outside the RV or camper in the upright position, securely fastened and with valves pointed away from the vehicle.
  • Never store tanks or cylinders in the RV’s living area.
  • When using the onboard stove or oven, open vents or windows and use the exhaust fan.
  • Never use outdoor appliances, such as camp stoves, gas-fired heaters or appliances inside an RV or tent.
  • Have appliances, tanks and/or cylinders checked annually by a RV shop registered with the BC Safety Authority.  If you’re renting an RV, make sure it has a valid safety decal.
  • If you smell gas or suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, get everyone out immediately and call 9-1-1.

Carbon Monoxide Safety

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless, and, toxic gas. When inhaled, CO interferes with the blood’s ability to absorb and transport oxygen. CO is produced when fuels are burned incompletely. Tobacco smoking, idling gasoline powered vehicles, and the burning of oil, coal, wood, charcoal, kerosene, propane or natural gas can all produce carbon monoxide. The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from regularly maintained appliances that are properly ventilated is extremely low.

Improperly installed, operated or poorly maintained appliances that use these fuels may create unsafe levels of CO.  In enclosed spaces like your home, vehicle, cottage, boat, recreational vehicle or tent, even a small amount of CO is dangerous.

Exposure to carbon monoxide causes flu-like symptoms such as headaches, nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, impaired judgement, loss of manual dexterity, and even loss of consciousness. In severe cases, CO poisoning can cause brain damage and death.  The elderly, children, people with heart and respiratory conditions, and pets may be particularly sensitive to carbon monoxide and may feel the effects sooner.

Follow these tips to prevent a carbon monoxide hazard:

  • Immediately move your car out of the garage after starting it.  This prevents the exhaust fumes seeping into the building though connecting doors or vents.
  • Familiarize yourself with the operating and maintenance manuals provided with your fuel burning appliances.
  • Have your fuel burning appliances checked regularly by a qualified service technician or heating contractor.
  • Check that chimneys and vents are not corroded or blocked (by a bird’s nest, snow or ice or other debris).
  • Keep combustion air inlet ducts clear.  They can become blocked by accumulated snow and ice or other debris.
  • Operate your kitchen exhaust fan when using your gas stove, so that combustion products and water vapours that are produced are then vented outside.
  • If you are adding a new fuel burning appliance or making changes to your home’s ventilation system including adding new widows and additional insulation, consult a qualified heating contractor.  These changes may upset the operation of existing appliances.
  • Use appliances only for the purpose for which they are designed.  Portable propane camping equipment and gas barbecues are approved for outdoor use only. They should never be used inside cabins, recreational vehicles, boats or tents.
  • Never use a gas cooking range for space heating purposes.
  • Do not operate chainsaws, lawn mowers, snow-blowers, in a closed area (garage, workshop, etc.).
  • Open a window when using a wood fireplace or operating large kitchen/ bathroom fans in a tightly sealed house.
  • Inform your family members about the symptoms and causes of carbon monoxide poisoning.

If you have appliances that may produce CO, you are required to purchase and install a carbon monoxide alarm.  When you buy one, make sure that it is certified to Canadian standards.  Products with CSA 6.19-01 on the packaging have been tested to the Residential Carbon Monoxide Alarming Devices standard published in March 2001.  The package will also show a replacement date.  The new standard includes Times-of-Manufacture and In-Service reliability testing.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation, proper use and maintenance.  CO alarms are usually installed adjacent to sleeping areas. More than one may be required if sleeping areas are located on different levels of your home.

While carbon monoxide alarms may provide and extra measure of warning, they should never be relied upon as a substitute for regular inspection and maintenance of natural gas, propane, kerosene, oil, or wood burning appliances, venting and chimneys.  A CO alarm should not be used as a substitute for a smoke alarm, but when purchasing an alarm it is possible to find alarms that are manufactured to work as both a CO and a smoke alarm.