Contents

 

Introduction

The simple answer to this question is yes. Gas leaks are a plumbing emergency. This is because of the dangers that can be caused as a result of the leak. A more complicated answer, however, is no, gas leaks are not a plumbing emergency. This is because a gas leak is serious in terms of your personal health and the safety of your home and should therefore be dealt with by specialists.

This article goes into depth on why gas leaks are so dangerous including the causes of a gas leak, how to detect one, what to do and not to do in case of a gas leak and the all important steps you can take to prevent one.

You may not think that this is all that important but what is interesting is that research conducted by the Gas Safe register found that 92% of people who care or check in on a loved one who does not live with them were not aware of the potential signs of an unsafe gas appliance. This is worrying as they also found that one in five homes were found to have unsafe gas appliances (2019). If those stats to not encourage you to learn the facts and look into the safety of your appliances, I’m not sure what will!

Why Gas Leaks Are a Plumbing Emergency

Quite simply, gas leaks are a plumbing emergency because as natural gas is flammable, any flame or spark can cause fire and explosions. This is obviously dangerous as anyone inside the building with the leak is a risk and should evacuate at the first sign of a leak (which is explained below).

As the gas is transported through pipes, you would think that it is a plumbing emergency as leaks can occur due to faulty pipes (also explained below). Plumbers also deal with gas leaks because of the similarities between gas pipes and water pipes.

However, if the gas leak is more than just an issues with the pipes, additional specialists should be called in.

Why They Are Not

This leads on to the reasons as to why gas leaks are not a plumbing emergency. As said, specialists are required to deal with gas leaks. There is also a specific number that has to be called in order to get the right help that is safe:

0800 111 999 

Gas Safe registered engineers are trained to deal with gas leaks safely. It is actually against the law for anyone to do work on gas appliances in the United Kingdom, Isle of Man or Guernsey unless they are on the Gas Safe Register (Uswitch 2020). Below you can see the logo which shows you whether your engineer is safe to attend to the leak.

What Causes a Gas Leak?

Poorly Fitted or Faulty Appliances

Gas leaks are caused by poorly fitted, badly maintained or faulty appliances such as boilers and cookers. They can also be caused by low grade pipe fittings. A poorly fitted appliance can allow gas to escape from the hose leading to the appliance, or from the seal. This is why it is important to make sure that any appliances are installed by an accredited Gas Safe registered engineer (Uswitch 2020).

Old Appliances

As mentioned, leaks are not only caused by poor fittings, but also faulty appliances that could be due to their age. Having your appliances serviced means that they can be checked for any ware and tear that could lead to leaks. It is a good idea to get them serviced by an accredited Gas Safe registered engineer to be on the safe side.

This also brings up the importance of checking any second-hand appliances and having them serviced too, particularly if you are moving or renting a new property. To ensure the safety of your new property, make sure that you have the right documentation stating the gas safety checks and if you are unsure then make arrangements to have an inspection carried out before moving in (npower 2020).

Corroded Pipes

Another cause for gas leaks is corroded pipes and can help you to detect a problem before it is serious. Any damage to pipes that you can see such as rust, discolouration, and cracks can be early indicators of a gas leak. Therefore, we are stressing the importance of servicing and inspections, to have that piece of mind that your property is safe from any potentially deadly leaks (veissmann.co.uk 2020).

How to Detect A Gas Leak

There are a few signs of a gas leak both physically to the appliance and physically to you. Looking out for these signs and getting the problem sorted quickly is crucial in stopping any damage to your house and yourself before it gets serious.

Natural gas itself has no scent, meaning a small leak would be tricky to catch. This is why your utility company adds a harmless chemical called mercaptan to the gas. Mercaptan has a sulphur or rotting eggs scent that is easily identifiable. If the leak is particularly small, however, it may be more difficult to detect.

Physical Signs

Other than the scent there are more signs of a gas leak that you should be aware of. It is important to evacuate the area and seek professional advice if you experience the following (Healthline 2020):

  • Hear a hissing or whistling sound around the gas line or pipes
  • See a damaged connection to the gas line
  • Plants dying or are dead for no apparent reason

There are also some signs from your appliances that could be indicators of a gas leak, even if you can’t smell the gas itself. Carbon monoxide is the product of gas not burning correctly and can be identified from the following (Uswitch 2020).

  • If the pilot light in the boiler dies out regularly
  • The flames on your gas appliances burn with an orange or yellow colour rather than blue
  • On the outside of the gas appliances there are scorched or soot marks
  • There are excessive amounts of condensation on the windows

Symptoms and Signs in People

In addition to these indicators, there are symptoms that you should look out for that could mean you are suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning (Healthline 2020).

If you experience these symptoms that disappear when you breathe fresh air, then you should evacuate and seek professional advice for the gas leak. You may also need to seek medical attention for yourselves depending on how you and your family are affected by the leak.

What to Do If You Smell Gas

It is important to know what to do and not to do in a potential gas leak situation in order to ensure the safety of yourself, your family, and your home.

If you believe that you are in immediate danger call the Gas Emergency Service on:

0800 111 999

The general advice is to have this number saved on your phone and call it on a mobile or landline outside of your home or at a neighbours as there is a very small risk that a mobile can ignite the gas (Uswitch 2020).

The following is a list of steps that you should take in order to prevent the worst from happening (SSE 2020):

  • If you are comfortable that you are not in immediate danger, then turn off the gas supply at the meter. Move the handle a quarter turn until it’s at 90 degrees from the pipe to shut off the gas supply.
  • Open all of the windows to allow fresh air to enter the home.
  • Leave the property.
  • Call the emergency number 0800 111 999 and follow any advice given by the emergency advisor on the phone.
  • Wait outside for the gas engineer to arrive so that you can help them gain access to the property.
  • If you or anyone from the household is feeling unwell, visit your GP or hospital and tell them that you have been exposed to a gas leak or carbon monoxide poisoning.

How to Turn off Your Gas Meter

This to-do list includes turning off your meter to stop the gas supply. There is a brief explanation of how to do this but as it is so important, we have included a section here so that you can familiarise yourself with the gas meter so that (if it is safe to do so), you can turn it off in an emergency.

The first step is to find the emergency control valve, which should be located next to the meter itself. In newer houses, the gas meter and control valve may be outside in a meter box. If it is not there it may be under the stairs, beneath the kitchen sink, or in a garage.

To turn off the supply itself you need to turn the handle a quarter turn so that the lever is at 90 degrees to the upright gas pipe (British Gas 2020; npower 2020).

What Not to Do If You Smell Gas

Equally, as it is important to know what to do, there are certain things that you should avoid doing if you think there is a gas leak in your home (SSE 2020; Uswitch 2020):

  • As mentioned, do not use any mobile or landline inside the home. Make sure that this step is taken outside or at a neighbour’s house.
  • Do not smoke, light a match, or use any other naked flame. This is because there is a risk of fire or explosion due to the gas in the room.
  • Do not turn any electrical switches on or off as you do not want to risk touching anything that could be a danger. It is best to get out of the house as soon as possible.
  • Do not close any doors as you want to make sure that the air is circulating to help disperse the gas.
  • If your gas meter is in a cellar or basement then it is safer to leave it and evacuate the building instead of trying to turn it off.
  • Definitely do not attempt to find the leak and repair it yourself. There are specialists who can deal with it safely and properly to avoid further danger and damage.

How to Prevent a Gas Leak

It’s all very serious, but in reality, gas leaks are a rare occurrence and are something that you should keep in mind but not lose sleep over. They can be easily avoided by following some tips that will help you to ensure your appliances and gas supply are safe.

  • Have your gas appliances checked yearly – This is a simple step to ensuring that your appliances are safe and will not cause a gas leak in your home. There are certain cases where you may be eligible for a free gas safety check, for example if you are over pension age and receive pension credit, and if you are on council tax or housing benefits (SAGA 2020).
  • Always check that your engineer is Gas Safe registered – Only those who are Gas Safe registered are able to do work on gas appliances in the UK. You can check that an engineer is Gas Safe on the website or by calling 0800 408 5500. The Gas Safe logo is a yellow triangle with the words ‘Gas Safe Register’ on it and is on the ID card of all Gas Safe engineers (Uswitch 2020).
  • Nominate your gas work for an inspection – If a Gas Safe registered engineer has visited or done work on your property in the last six months, then you can nominate your property for a free inspection to make sure that everything is safe and in working order (gassafetyregister.co.uk 2020).
  • Make sure that before you move you have seen the most up to date gas safety certificate for the property – When moving into a rented property, it is crucial that you see and have a copy of the gas safety certificate so that you know the dates of the last inspection and that all gas appliances are safe (SSE 2020).
  • Get yourself some alarms – As carbon monoxide has no scent or taste, it can be hard to spot when there is a potentially deadly problem. Installing a gas detector alarm and carbon monoxide alarm in your home could be a vital step in making sure that your home is safe.

Saving Time in an Emergency

There are a few things that you can do that may not prevent a gas leak but can save you precious time in an emergency if you are prepared beforehand.

Knowing the signs of a gas leak that have been explained in this article can help you to act quickly. Similarly, knowing the symptoms that appear when you may have carbon monoxide poisoning can help you to seek medical attention quickly.

Familiarise yourself with the gas meter is also a time saver in an emergency. We’ve already mentioned how to turn off the gas supply but it is important to stress how it can save you time if you already know exactly where your meter and control valve is and how to turn off the supply.

Carbon Monoxide Safety

As we have mentioned the danger of carbon monoxide and how it links to gas leaks, we thought it may be helpful to elaborate for your safety.

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that has no taste or smell, making it particularly dangerous. Carbon monoxide can be released in a gas leak which is why it is important to know the symptoms above so that you can get the correct medical attention.

If too much carbon monoxide is breathed in, it enters your bloodstream and mixes with haemoglobin (the part of red blood cells that carry oxygen around your body) to form carboxyhaemoglobin. When this happens, the blood can no longer carry oxygen which causes the body’s cells and tissue to fail which is deadly (NHS 2020).

We explained the symptoms further up (Symptoms and Signs in People). The longer you are inhaling the gas, the worse the symptoms will be. With prolonged exposure you can also experience loss of balance, vision, and memory and eventually you can lose consciousness. All of this can happen within 2 hours if there is a lot of carbon monoxide in the air.

There are particular groups of people that carbon monoxide poisoning can be particularly dangerous for (mayoclinic.org 2020):

  • Unborn babies –Foetal blood cells take up carbon monoxide more easily than adult blood cells. This makes them more susceptible to harm.
  • Children  – As children take more breaths than adults do, this could make them more susceptible also.
  • Older adults – There is a higher risk of the development of brain damage due to carbon monoxide poisoning in older adults.
  • People who have chronic heart disease – Those with a history of anaemia and breathing problems are more likely to get sick from exposure to carbon monoxide.

This all further demonstrates the risks that come with gas leaks and can all be easily avoided with inspections, safety checks and by knowing what to do in emergency situations.

Poisoning Prevention

There are several simple ways that can help the prevention of carbon monoxide poisoning due to gas leaks (mayoclinic.org 2020).

  • Installing a carbon monoxide detector –  As said previously carbon monoxide detectors can help to prevent the damages caused by a leak as they emit a sound similar to your fire alarm, alerting you that there is a problem so that you can sort it out.
  • Use gas appliances as recommended – Using your appliances as they are supposed to will help to keep carbon monoxide levels where they should be. Examples of misusing appliances include using a gas stove or oven to heat your home, using portable gas camp stoves when you are inside and only using fuel-burning space heaters when no-one is around to monitor them.
  • Keeping fuel-burning appliances properly vented – Without proper ventilation, appliances are more susceptible to damage which can lead to dangerous gas leaks.
  • Make repairs if necessary – If carbon monoxide poisoning has occurred in your home, make sure that you take the right steps to ensure that every appliance and gas pipe is safe again before re-entering. You may even want to follow up with another inspection to make sure that a similar situation does not happen again.

Other ways in which you can prevent carbon monoxide poisoning do not exactly refer to gas leaks. For example:

  • Opening the garage door before starting your car will allow any gases to escape into the air rather than your confined garage.
  • Keeping your fireplace in good repair.
  • Keeping vents and chimneys unblocked during remodelling.
  • Using caution when working with solvents in a confined space.

Summary

Overall, gas leaks are an emergency, one which plumbers are often able to help with. As we have demonstrated, care must be taken in a gas leak scenario to ensure the safety of not only those in the home but those taking care of the problem.

Sometimes faulty appliances can’t be helped, by no fault of your own you may have one in your house right now. By reading this article you are a step closer to ensuring that your home is safe from gas leaks as your new knowledge can help you to get your appliances checked by the correct engineer, to check out your meter just in case and to help you to handle an emergency situation which could be vital in ensuring the safety of you and your family.