Using Natural Gas Safely
Natural gas is one of the safest and most reliable fuels available. Rarely does a mechanical failure or storm interrupt its dependable delivery. To assure safe, efficient delivery of natural gas to your home or business, natural gas utility companies continuously monitor their pipeline systems.
What is natural gas?
- Natural gas is primarily methane (CH4) with small amounts of other hydrocarbons.
- Natural gas is colorless and odorless. For your protection, natural gas utility companies add mercaptan, a distinctive smelling chemical, to natural gas so you’ll be able to detect even the slightest amount in the air.
- Natural gas is not toxic.
- Natural gas is lighter than air; if it escapes it will rise and dissipate. Natural gas is clean-burning. When burned with the proper amount of air, it produces heat, carbon dioxide and water vapor.
- Natural gas is condensed by cooling; it will convert to liquid form if cooled to – 260 °F. Some utility companies may liquefy natural gas in summer when gas prices tend to be lower, and store it for use during extremely cold winter days when prices may be higher.
Both natural gas and electricity are essential for cooking, water heating, home heating and a variety of other uses. However, it’s important to always use all forms of energy properly to assure safe, reliable operation.
The Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Carbon monoxide (CO) can form in homes that don’t have enough fresh air for combustion of fuel in furnaces, wood stoves and appliances. As people seal cracks, add insulation and do other things to prevent heat loss, if it is done incorrectly, homes can become starved for air. As exhaust fans and appliances draw more and more air from inside the house, air from outside can be pulled into the home through the furnace vent, bringing flue products back into the furnace. When these flue products are reburned, CO can form.
CO is a colorless, odorless gas that is toxic and can be fatal. It can cause death by inhibiting the ability of the blood to hold oxygen. Be alert to the physical symptoms of CO poisoning:
- Mild cases cause sleepiness, irritability and an inability to concentrate, flu-like symptoms that seem to go away when you leave the house.
- Severe cases cause nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath, convulsions and unconsciousness. Rapid heartbeat or tightening of the chest, or both
Indications that the furnace or fuel-burning appliance is not receiving enough air for combustion, or the vent/chimney may be blocked, include:
- Vent and/or chimney does not draw combustion products; they tend to come into the room rather than go up and out the chimney.
- Excessive humidity in the house, indicated by heavily frosted windows
- A peculiar stale odor and burning eyes when the appliance is operating
811 – Call Before You Dig —It’s The Law!
Natural gas lines broken by digging equipment are a hazard. To minimize this hazard, the most important thing you can do is call before you dig. Minnesota offers a free statewide service that allows utilities to locate any buried facilities they own before you start digging. Just call 3 business days before digging and provide the requested information to the operator.
Utility representatives will come to your home and mark where lines are buried. There is no charge to you for this service; Gopher State One Call is supported by area utilities.
Be sure the digging will avoid the natural gas service or main serving your home
When contractors or other utilities dig near your property, they should check the location of buried pipes. However, if any part of the digging or construction process seems irregular, or if you smell natural gas, please contact your local natural gas utility.
If You Smell Natural Gas
Most natural gas utilities will check suspected gas leaks at no cost to you. If you smells gas INSIDE OR OUTSIDE your home, immediately call your natural gas utility at the Emergency Gas Leak number listed in your local telephone directory. Do not assume that, because a leak is outside, someone else has called.
If The Gas Odor is Strong
- Have everyone leave the house
- Use a neighbor’s phone to call your local natural gas utility
- Do not turn lights on or off, operate any electric switches, or use the phone. The sparking that may occur could ignite the gas
- Open windows and doors
Never try to repair a gas leak yourself. Leave all repairs to properly equipped and trained utility technicians.
Look for the American Gas Association Blue Star Seal on natural gas appliance you buy. The symbol on the rating plate means the appliance has passed A.G.A. tests and complies with safety standards accepted by the American National Standards Institute.
Other appliances, and those using electricity, should have the Underwriter’s Laboratory(UL) symbol. It means the product meets recommend safety stands of the American National Standards Institute. Approved electric appliances, material and equipment, and wood stoves carry this seal.
Natural Gas Excess Flow Valves and Eligibility
Northwest Gas’s residential, multi-family, and small commercial customers can now request installation of an excess flow valve (EFV) on their natural gas service lines. A new regulation from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has expanded the use of these valves, which have been installed on new or replacement services lines for the past several years.
An excess flow valve (EFV) is a safety device designed to automatically stop the flow of natural gas through the service line if it exceeds a predetermined rate. When activated, an EFV may prevent the buildup of natural gas and lessen the potential for property damage and/or injury. It should be noted that these devices generally do not protect against slow leaks, such as those caused by corrosion or loose fittings, or leaks located along customer-owned piping beyond the natural gas meter. Many customers already have an EFV installed on their natural gas service line. Customers who do not have an EFV may be eligible to have one installed.
EFVs are not available for some customers due to the amount of gas used, areas with delivery pressure less than 10 psi, or other circumstances that hinder the effectiveness of the EFV. If a customer is eligible and requests the installation of an EFV, an EFV will be installed at a time that is mutually agreeable to Northwest Gas and the customer. The customer will be responsible for the cost of excavation and surface restoration associated with installation of the EFV. Once installed, there is no cost to the customer to maintain. Estimates for cost and time frame for construction will be provided as requested on a case by case basis. Since the EFV will be installed on Northwest Gas’s gas pipe, only Northwest Gas or its approved contractors may perform the installation. Customers can request more information about EFV installations by calling our customer service at 800-367-6964.
Have your appliance installed by a licensed professional. We do not recommend do-it-yourself appliance modifications or installations because safety hazards can result. However, if you decide to do it yourself, follow manufacturer’s installation instructions and local code requirements.
Natural gas is not poisonous. However, any burning fuel can become poisonous if it doesn’t burn completely. This is called “incomplete combustion” and can produce toxic gases. All fuel-burning furnaces, space heaters, water heaters and gas logs must be vented to the outside in an approved manner.
Check vent/chimney to make certain it is tight, clean and in good repair.
Keep vents and air openings on appliances unobstructed. Do not close them off.
Although many new natural gas appliances have spark ignition, some still have pilots that burn continuously. If the pilot goes out, most gas appliances have vales that automatically shut off the gas. A noticeable odor will alert you if gas is escaping from a pilot. As always, if you smell gas, ventilate the area and relight the pilot only if you have manufacturer’s instructions and clearly understand them. Otherwise, call a licensed repair professional.
Care of heating systems and appliances
Heating equipment and appliances need periodic care. Proper maintenance and checks by qualified technicians will extend their operating life, save energy and help them operate safely and efficiently. Follow manufacturer’s recommendation.
Store flammable liquids away from appliances
Flammable liquids include gasoline, cleaning solvents, contact cement, paint thinner, etc. They give off vapors which can easily ignite if exposed to any source of ignition, such as an electrical spark or a pilot on a natural gas appliance. Always keep flammable materials a safe distance from sources of ignition and use only in open areas with adequate ventilation.