A couple of weeks ago, my washer – part of a washer/gas dryer combo stack – died on me when it failed to drain water during the drain cycle. Just to be certain that it’s not broken due to some clogged pumps (repairable), we pulled the unit out from the small pantry space to inspect the hoses in the back.
A Bigger Problem Lurks Beneath
Unbeknownst to me, a bigger problem was lurking. That same evening, I smelled a whiff of gas in the kitchen area. It came and went. I checked my stove and dryer. Because it was just a whiff, I thought little of it. I went to bed and rushed off to work the next morning.
When I came home late the next evening, there was an unmistakeable smell of gas the moment I walked through the door. This time, the smell was palpable though it was still concentrated near the kitchen area. Where is the gas smell coming from? I can’t be sure. Is the leak coming from my unit, or did it drift up from my neighbors? (Natural gas drifts up)
I settled in and looked up information on what to do if you suspect a gas leak. Should I call my gas company right away? Does this constitute an emergency? I was tired. It was late. Out of an abundance of caution, I simply decided to open up all the windows for the night.
Is It An Emergency?
I woke up the next morning and I still smelled faint gas. I stepped out to the balcony to get some fresh air. It was only when I get back inside when the drop in air quality became apparent to me. I decided then and there to call my local gas company’s emergency line.
I admitted up front that I don’t know if it’s considered an emergency to the gentleman who picked up my call. He assured me that I did the right thing and dispatched a technician to my location. While I waited, I began to have a light headache. I stayed outside for fresh air.
The technician also said he was glad I called. He let me know that he’d much rather be out on a service call trying to find a gas leak than to see in the news that someone had died from a gas leak. That struck a nerve with me.
He traced the leak to the wall piping behind the washer/dryer unit, which required a licensed gas plumber to fix. He shut off the gas line to my unit and wrote up a notice. Gratefully, I thanked him for coming. Even though it was a small one, it was – in fact – a gas leak.
Mistakes I’ve Made
I had actually committed a series of mistakes. Hopefully, you can also learn from them.
1. DON’T SETTLE IN IF YOU SUSPECT A GAS LEAK
As most people already know, natural gas is “odorless, colorless and tasteless” but mercaptan has been added so that people can smell and detect natural gas in the air. What I did not realize – until I experienced for myself – is that the longer you are in the environment, the less you are able to detect it. This is a lethal mistake to make. As the nose adjusted to the smell, the brain shuts off all the warning bells.
It is so incredibly easy to settle in and think that it’s all in your head. It is why carbon monoxide poisoning /gas leaks are known as the “silent killers”.
2. DON’T WAIT TO CALL FOR HELP, AT ANY HOUR OF THE DAY
I hesitated to call the emergency line because I didn’t know if my situation constituted as a “real” emergency. I also hesitated because it was late in the evening, and I didn’t want to bother people. Now, I wouldn’t hesitate to call at any hours of the day. Gas (at the right mix and level) and carbon monoxide poisoning can be deadly — people do die from it. It is better to be safe than sorry.
3. DON’T RELY ON CARBON MONOXIDE GAS DETECTOR
I mistakenly thought that my carbon monoxide detector might pick up the odor. If it was a serious gas leak, the device would be triggered. Except, carbon monoxide alarms don’t work for natural gas detection. It was a wrong assumption on my part, which gave way to some false sense of security. Fortunately, I trusted my gut instinct.
4. DON’T IGNORE SYMPTOMS OR SIGNS
If you suspect a gas leak and/or start to develop symptoms, don’t ignore it. Small gas leaks, even over time, can be be harmful to you and your health. I ended up getting a light headache even though it was a small gas leak.
WHAT NOT TO DO IF YOU SUSPECT A GAS LEAK
If you suspect a gas leak, these are some things you should not do.
While I committed a series of mistakes, I also did a few things right, such as opening all windows and calling the emergency line the next morning. In life, we are given chances to have some do-overs. Some mistakes are more forgiving than others, while others are life-altering or life-ending (i.e. DUI, drug overdose, and yes, even gas leaks and carbon monoxide poisoning).
Let gas leak /carbon monoxide poisoning not be a fatal mistake for anyone.
No matter where you are (at home, out there on a traveling adventure, or anywhere), if this post helps someone to re-consider what they should do when a gas leak is suspected, then it’s done its job.