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Reasons You Can’t Always Smell a Propane Gas Leak

Reasons you can't always smell a propane gas leak

Your propane company mails you information from time to time to keep you informed about propane safety. You may recall finding in these safety materials a “Scratch and Sniff” test—allowing you to easily recognize the distinct smell of propane.

In its natural form, propane is odorless, but manufacturers deliberately add a chemical compound to give it a strong unpleasant smell. This odorized propane is usually described as something similar to the odor of rotten eggs or a skunk’s spray.

However, there are situations that may prevent you from detecting that telltale odor. Sometimes, conditions in your home – or in your body – can make it harder to pick up propane’s scent.

Commonly known as “odor loss,” this can be caused by:

  • Too much air, water, or rust in your propane tank
  • A propane leak underground (soil diffuses propane’s odor)
  • Odor “sticking” to the inside of the propane distribution pipes
  • Diminished sense of smell, caused by old age, sinus congestion or other medical conditions

With all this in mind, it is important to take these two precautions for propane leaks:

  1. Install a propane gas detector (or detectors, depending on the size and layout of your home). A propane gas detector is an inexpensive but vital piece of safety equipment; follow manufacturer’s instructions for placement and maintenance.
  2. When in doubt, follow propane safety procedures. React immediately to even the faintest propane odor, following propane safety measures to get your family to safety.

What to do if you smell gas

  • Extinguish all smoking materials and any open flames or other sources of ignition. Everyone should vacate the building, vehicle or area.
  • Move away without using any electric switches, appliances, thermostats or telephones.
  • If it is safe to do so, close the gas shutoff valve on the propane tank or cylinder.
  • Call your propane supplier or your local fire department from a mobile phone or a neighbor’s telephone.
  • Even if you do not continue to smell propane, do not open or turn on the propane supply valve. Do not reenter the building, vehicle or area. Let a qualified propane service technician or emergency personnel check for escaped propane.
  • Have a properly trained propane service technician repair the leak. The propane service technician or emergency responder needs to determine that the leak situation has been fully resolved. The propane service technician should check all of your gas appliances and relight any appliance pilots.
  • Return to your home only when the service technician or emergency responder indicates that it is safe to do so.

Preventive maintenance

Without question, propane is one of the safest fuels you can choose for your North Carolina home. But to stay as safe as possible, you should always pay close attention to the operation of your gas appliances. The best way to keep all your propane equipment running properly is to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for preventive maintenance. Be sure to consult your owner’s manuals for what’s required.

More safety tips

When appliances operate properly, propane burns with a blue flame. If you see yellow flames—or notice significant amounts of soot on any equipment–the gas may not be burning completely. This can create carbon monoxide. Contact your propane company or HVAC contractor for service if you notice a yellow flame or soot on your appliances.

You should also regularly check the outdoor vents of your appliances to make sure combustion gases flow unobstructed to the outdoors. Insects, birds and small animals have been known to build nests in vent pipes. To prevent any damage, use a broom or a soft brush to gently remove any obstructions you find in your vents.

If you have questions or concerns about propane safety, be sure to consult with your local North Carolina propane company.