This past September, natural gas leaks from too much pressure in delivery pipes caused dozens of houses to explode in three Boston suburbs, injuring at least 20 people and causing a death. While gas leaks are rare, with natural gas used in half of American homes, it’s important for many Americans to take key safety measures.

Gas Leaks

While infrequent, gas leaks can cause explosions. If you smell the rotten egg odor of gas:

  • Get out immediately, taking all people and animals with, then, once out, call 911 and the utility company, urges the American Gas Association (AGA).
  • Avoid causing any type of spark, which could cause the gas to explode, warns the AGA. This means: Do not turn off/on anything (even a light switch). Do not use a flashlight. Do not light a match/lighter. Do not use a telephone inside the house. Do not start a car in an attached garage.

If you do any digging in your yard, to plant a tree or install a fence, for instance, call 811 beforehand. The utility company will come out and stake off the location of underground gas lines so that you do not rupture any while digging, which could cause an explosion.

Appliance Safety

Many appliances run on natural gas. The key to safety is to ensure that a licensed natural gas contractor installs these correctly, which includes setting them up to properly vent. All gas appliances should bear the mark of safety testing, such as UL. You’ll also need to regularly maintain these appliances.

Do it yourself maintenance includes cleaning dryer lint after every use, and regularly ensuring that nothing blocks dryer and other appliance vents. In addition, check your furnace filters monthly and change as necessary, and follow these other appliance maintenance tips.

Once a year, have your heating system, water heater, and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician, recommends the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Additionally, the Federal Emergency Management Agency says that if you have appliances that use natural gas, install natural gas detectors on every floor of your home. These will detect leaks and sound an alarm before you can smell the gas.

Carbon Monoxide

Burning fuel in vehicles, small engines, stoves, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, or furnaces produces carbon monoxide, notes the CDC. This can cause a dangerous build up indoors, which can injure or kill people and animals.

Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, which can include: headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. If you breathe in a lot of the gas, it can make you pass out or kill you.

To prevent accidental poisoning, install a carbon monoxide detector in your home that bears the UL Mark.

“The reality is that carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless and deadly,” says Barb Guthrie, UL vice president, in a related article. “A carbon monoxide detector will identify when you have a toxicity level in your home that requires you to evacuate. If the alarm goes off, get out and call the fire department. They will come measure for carbon monoxide and let you know when it’s safe to re-enter your home.”

Check your detector monthly using the “test” button. Replace the batteries once a year when you change back clocks at the end of daylight saving time.

The CDC offers these other tips for avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Never use a gas range or oven for heating, which can cause a build-up of carbon monoxide inside your home, cabin or camper.
  • Never burn charcoal indoors, which can cause a dangerous buildup of carbon monoxide.
  • Never use a portable gas camp stove indoors for the same reason as above.
  • Never run a generator inside your home, basement or garage. Also, always make sure a running generator is placed at least 20 feet from any window, door or vent. Look for the new generation of generators, which produce less carbon monoxide (but still must follow these rules).

Natural gas appliances can make our lives easier and better – but we need to be smart by applying these safety tips.