Natural Gas Safety

About Natural Gas

When handled properly, natural gas is a clean and safe form of energy. Appliances that are installed correctly and maintained according to the manufacturer’s guidelines will provide many years of worry-free service.

Several characteristics of natural gas make this form of energy very safe. First, unlike other hydrocarbon fuels, natural gas is lighter than air. This allows natural gas to dissipate into the air should a leak occur. Propane and other hydrocarbon fuels are heavier than air and will “settle” in lower areas if a leak occurs.

Natural gas also has a much higher ignition temperature than other hydrocarbon fuels. Natural gas ignites at 1,200°F compared to ignition temperatures as low as 700°F for other fuels.

In order for natural gas to ignite, there must be a limited concentration of natural gas mixed with air. The explosive range for natural gas in air is 4 to 14%. That is, there must be a mixture of 4 to 14% natural gas mixed with air before ignition will take place. If there is more than 14% natural gas mixed with air, ignition will not take place because the mixture is “too rich” or contains more fuel than needed.

In its native form, natural gas is odorless, colorless and tasteless. Hartselle Utilities injects a very detectable odor into the natural gas before it enters the local pipeline system. This odorant has a smell resembling the smell of rotten eggs. The level of odorant is maintained so the smell is detectable well before natural gas reaches the flammability range described above.

If the gas odor is strong:

  • Do not light matches.
  • Do not turn on or off or operate any equipment.
  • Advise all occupants to leave the house or building immediately.
  • Do not re-enter the home or business until the Gas Department says it is safe to do so.

Carbon Monoxide

Often called the “Silent Killer”, carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas produced when any fuel, such as charcoal, gasoline, wood, or natural gas is burned. If natural gas appliances are not maintained, adjusted and operated properly, carbon monoxide can be produced. If the burner of a natural gas appliance is properly adjusted and has an adequate air supply, the usual byproducts are carbon dioxide and water vapor. Carbon monoxide is absorbed by red blood cells in the lungs while displacing the oxygen in the blood stream, usually, unknowingly to the victim. Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms are flu-like and include headaches, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, weakness and sleepiness.

If carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected, seek medical assistance immediately and move the victim to a well-ventilated area. Be sure to open the doors to help ventilate the area.

To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in your home:

  • Make sure all natural gas appliances, such as the water heater and space heaters are vented outside.
  • Inspect and clean the vents annually.
  • Examine the flame as it burns; a properly adjusted burner will produce a steady blue flame with very small amounts of yellow or orange. If the flame is yellow or orange, call a licensed appliance repair service to have the equipment adjusted.

Safety & Wise Use Tips

  • Never store flammable materials near a natural gas appliance.
  • Always follow manufacturer’s instructions when operating or doing work on gas appliances.
  • Keep burners on all natural gas appliances clean.
  • Make sure flames burn blue. A yellow flame indicates inefficient burning and can be hazardous.
  • If the odor of natural gas is detected, ventilate the building. If the odor is very strong, get out of the building. Do not light matches or operate any equipment including electrical switches or light switches which could cause a spark. Use a neighbor’s phone to call the Natural Gas Department to report a natural gas leak.
  • Have the furnace or central heating unit checked at least once a year, before the heating season, to ensure it is operating efficiently.
  • Turn off the furnace pilot light during the summer.
  • Do not set the thermostat at a warmer setting than normal when the heat is first turned on. It will not warm up any faster and may cause the customer to forget to reset to normal setting.
  • Clean or replace heating system filters at least once a month. A good reminder is to replace the filter when paying the utility bill.
  • Heat only the rooms you use.
  • Make sure the temperature setting on the water heater is no higher than 140 degrees.
  • Adjust the flame on the burner on the range to the size of the pan being used so it does not heat the air around the pan.
  • When buying new gas appliances, look for ones which have electronic ignitors instead of pilot lights.