If you are reading this because you think there is a gas leak in your home, you should immediately vacate the building and use a neighbor's phone to call emergency services and the gas company. Leaks can be extremely dangerous, and they require prompt attention.
More general information about gas leaks can help people prevent them and identify them in their early stages. Natural gas, propane, and several other products known as “gas” are used as fuel for heating and cooking in many homes. As a fuel, gas is valued because it tends to burn cleanly and efficiently. It also poses a safety risk, because it is highly combustible, and it can cause death by suffocation if people inhale enough of it.
In its natural state, gas is largely odorless, which means that a leak cannot be detected until it is too late. For this reason, gas companies add odors to their gas. Sulfur is a common choice of additive, since it is distinctive and strong. Many homes with gas devices have low levels of gas odor when the stove is turned on, or when the occupants are reaching the bottom of a gas tank, but strong smell or a marked increase in odor level can indicate the presence of a gas leak.
Smell isn't the only tool that can be used to detect a gas leak. It is also possible to use gas detectors, which will signal an alert if there is gas in the air. Detectors can be useful for people with an impaired sense of smell and for heavy sleepers. A gas detector may also include a carbon monoxide detector, a useful tool to have with gas appliances because it alerts users to the fact that the devices are burning inefficiently and causing a carbon monoxide buildup. Hardware stores typically stock such devices, and some landlords will pay for their installation.
The most important thing to do if a gas leak is suspected is to leave the area, taking all animal and human occupants of the area to a safe place. Electrical devices should not be turned on if a leak is suspected, and it is a good idea to turn any devices that are on to an off position, as long as they are on the way out the door. Open flames are also strongly ill advised, for obvious reasons. The gas should also be turned off, using the valve located on the gas pipe where it enters the structure.
Some regions have a special hotline which people can call to report gas leaks. In other instances, people can call emergency services or their local fire department. Once emergency services has been alerted, the gas company can be called. Together, the agencies can determine whether or not there is a leak, and they can resolve the problem which is causing the leak.
Calling the fire department because you smell gas might seem a bit over dramatic, but the fire department would rather be safe than sorry. A gas explosion could potentially cause serious property damage and loss of life, and firefighters would rather respond when they are not needed than be called after it's too late.