What to do if you smell gas

While natural gas is generally safe, there are dangers to be aware of. Here’s what to do if you smell that you have a gas leak.

If you smell gas in your house, you should deal with it immediately. Unsafe appliances can lead to explosions, fires or carbon monoxide poisoning.

It’s also worth noting that certain gases – specifically carbon monoxide (CO) – are colourless and odourless. And carbon monoxide poisoning accounts for over a hundred deaths in England and Wales each year. As such, it’s always worth having a detector, and you should test it regularly to make sure it’s working.

Here we’ll look at what causes leaks, how to detect them and what to do if you have a leak.

If you’re thinking about switching gas or electricity supplier, you can do an energy comparison to find the best deals for your circumstances. And here are our top tips for reducing gas and electricity usage.

I can smell gas in the house

If you smell gas in your home, you should act immediately. First, turn your gas supply off at the mains. In new houses, the isolation valve will be in the same box as the gas meter. If it’s not there, it may be under the stairs, beneath the kitchen sink or in your garage.

You should be able to stop the flow of gas by turning the valve a quarter of the way round, so it’s at 90 degrees to the pipe.

The next step would be to get some fresh air into your house. Opening all windows and doors will allow air to flow around your home and disperse the gas.

In the case of windows not being a good source of fresh air, you should get outside as soon as possible.  

It’s also recommended not to use any electrical switches, as the sparks may cause an explosion. This includes lightbulbs and doorbells. Don’t smoke or light any sort of flame within the property, or use any electrical appliances which may cause a spark.

Contact the National Gas Emergency Service on 0800 111 999 as soon as possible, as they’ll be able to offer advice and help, as well as next best steps. This number is free to call, and available 24 hours a day. They’ll also alert Cadent, which operates and maintains the distribution of natural gas.

Letting your neighbours know is also helpful, in the case there may be a gas leak in their property too.

If you smell gas outside the house, such as in the street, again the National Gas Emergency Service is the hotline to call.

How can I detect a gas leak?

The first indication of a gas leak would be the distinctive smell. While natural gas is odourless, energy companies add a scent to the supply, so you’re able to sniff out a gas leak right away.

Mercaptan, which is the chemical added to natural gas, makes it smell like old smelly socks or rotten eggs. You should also be able to tell if there is a gas leak in your home even if you have a blocked nose.

Carbon monoxide is especially pernicious, as it’s odourless. For this reason, it’s a good idea to have a CO detector, and give it regular tests to ensure it’s working.

In the case of a carbon monoxide leak, you may also suffer some physical symptoms. Dizziness, fatigue, headaches and nausea are just some examples of possible symptoms. It’s advised to leave the property as soon as possible. You should visit your GP if you have persistent symptoms.

You can sometimes sense a gas leak from signs in your household appliances, even if you cannot smell gas. You may hear a hiss, for instance.

It’s also recommended to watch out for excessive condensation on the windows. If household plants are dead or dying, whereas they usually thrive, this could also be a sign of a gas leak. Plus you may get a distinctive, musty smell in the air.

If the flame on your boiler is a slow-looking orange or yellow colour rather than a strong blue, this may also indicate a gas leak.

What is gas?

Natural gas is considered to be one of the safest and cleanest fossil fuels used within properties, powering home appliances such as the cooker or heater. But there are dangers worth bearing in mind.

Alarms can detect the presence of smoke or carbon monoxide, but a natural gas leak is detected through sounds, sights and smells.

While natural gas leaks aren’t in themselves toxic, a leak does increase the potential and risks of fire or explosions, and should be dealt with promptly.

If natural gas is burned incorrectly, it can lead to carbon monoxide. This is usually the result of faulty gas appliances such as boilers, heaters and fireplaces. Although it’s worth noting that CO is also produced from burning coal, wood, oil or petrol.

How can I prevent gas leaks?

As always, prevention is better than cure. To avoid potential gas leaks, make sure your boiler and gas kitchen appliances are installed and serviced by an engineer on the Gas Safe Register. You should also check them on a regular basis, for signs of wear and tear.

It’s recommended to have your gas appliances checked and monitored yearly. If you’re of a pensionable age, receive government benefits or are chronically sick or disabled, you may be entitled to be part of the Priority Services Register with your energy supplier.

This entitles you to a free annual gas safety check. It’s best to contact your energy supplier to see if you do qualify for this.

If you move to a new house, it’s recommended to get your appliances tested. Remember to only get them checked by a Gas Safe registered engineer.

If you live in a rented property, your landlord would be responsible for ensuring safe installation and the regular maintenance of all gas appliances. You should also make sure your landlord provides you with a gas safety certificate for your property.

In order to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, you should install an audible CO detector if you don’t already have one. It’s also possible to get CO detectors for those with hearing impairments.

Carbon monoxide detectors look very similar to smoke alarms and can be bought from any DIY store. You may also be able to get one free from your gas supplier. It’s recommended that you install these in an open space such as a hallway or corridor, and replace the batteries once a year.

Are you struggling with your energy bills?

If you’re finding it difficult to afford your energy bills, see what help might be available. You may qualify for a hardship grant if you’re in energy debt, for instance. Also, check if you qualify for the Warm Home Discount, Winter Fuel Payments or Cold Weather Payments.

It’s also a good idea to check with your local council to see if you qualify for the Household Support Fund. This scheme provides vulnerable people with grants or support for necessary everyday expenses, including energy bills. Find your local council’s website at GOV.UK.