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Last updated: 14 July 2021
Gas leaks pose a very real and immediate threat to UK households, but do you know what to do if you smell gas in your home? Statistically, homeowners are most at risk of gas leaks, but renters should be aware of what to watch out for, too.
What does gas smell like?
Gas itself doesn’t naturally have a smell. But that’s not a particularly useful property when it comes to detecting odours, is it? In fact, it’s thoroughly unhelpful. Therefore, a smell is added to make it easier for you to identify a potential leak; specifically, one called mercaptan, which is a harmless gas that smells like rotten eggs (we know – of all the smells to choose from, right?).
How do I find my gas meter?
You should be familiar with where your gas meter is, because in the event of a gas leak one of the first steps should be to cut off your gas supply – we’ll talk more about action plans later. If you’re renting, be sure to find this out from the landlord when you move in. They should also provide you with a gas safety certificate for the building, which has to be renewed every twelve months.
What are gas leaks caused by?
Gas leaks could happen for any number of reasons, but there are a few popular culprits. Negligence is one - there’s a reason why it’s important to get appliances like your boiler or cooker serviced: maintenance professionals are able to spot any risks before they evolve.
Speaking of professionals, a common cause of gas leaks is poor workmanship. Always choose an accredited gas engineer to install any appliances. Check they’re registered with Gas Safe; you can go on their website to compare gas pros in your area.
Lastly, old, dodgy, and even second-hand appliances only have so much lifetime. For boilers, it’s generally 10-15 years. So, if you’ve still got the same boiler that kept you warm on that frosty night Will Young won Pop Idol in 2002 (how could anyone forget?), then it’s probably time to bid farewell.
Newer models not only reduce the risk of a gas leak, but are also way more efficient, meaning cheap energy for your home and money saved on your bill.
What are the dangers of gas leaks?
There are two serious dangers that come with gas leaks. The first is if the gas is ignited. Depending on the size of the leak, this could cause an explosion, and we don’t need to delve too deep into the devastation this can cause.
The second is carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. CO doesn’t have the tell-tale smell of gas to signify a leak, but exposure to it can cause serious long-term damage to your health and even death.
At home, if you frequently feel nauseous, dizzy, fatigued, have headaches or have irregular breathing, then you could have a carbon monoxide leak. Call the National Gas Emergency Service on 0800 111 999 and contact your doctor.
What to do if you smell gas
If you smell gas, there are some essential steps you need to take to ensure both the safety of yourself and your home.
- We’ll start with the inside action: don’t use any appliances, electricity or naked flames – there will be time for a cup of tea and a cigarette afterwards. Gas is ignited by a flame which includes sparks of electricity, so switch off and stay calm.
- As long as your gas meter isn’t in the cellar, turn it off if you can. To stop the gas supply, usually you need to switch the valve but, as we mentioned, it’s important to know precisely where your meter is and how to stop the gas before a moment of crisis.
- Ventilate your home by opening any windows you can. If there is a gas leak, air will help to disperse the gas and minimise potential danger.
- The outside bit: leave your home and call the National Gas Emergency Service. Explain there is a potential gas leak at your home and wait for help.
- Lastly, let your neighbours know. While they might be miffed about being interrupted, we guarantee they’ll be more miffed if there’s a gas explosion close to their home…
How to protect yourself against a gas leak
Now you know the risks, you’re up to speed. In sum, to protect against a gas leak you should ensure you regularly get your appliances serviced by an accredited engineer. It also pays to be cautious around buying second-hand appliances; if you do, get them fitted by, you guessed it, an accredited engineer.
Finally, you should also purchase a carbon monoxide detector. These can, and should, be installed in every room that has a fuel-burning appliance and will sound an alarm if it detects carbon monoxide. You can pick these up pretty cheap from DIY shops.