All propane users should know basic propane safety tips. Propane companies tend to supply new customers with consumer information sheets and it is important to review these with your propane company to acquire the right propane safety reflexes. Remember: good employee safety training and adequate consumer information are crucial in preventing propane accidents from happening. They are what make propane a safe fuel.
Familiarize yourself with the smell of propane
In its natural state, propane is odorless. To enable propane users to detect the presence of propane, chemical odorants are systematically added to the gas. Residential propane smells like rotten eggs so it is easily detectable. However, some people suffer from odor loss. If this is the case, do not hesitate to call your propane company even if there is only a small smell of gas.
In some cases (propane leaking through soil or if a propane tank has air, water or rust in it), propane loses its smell. This is why it might be a good idea to have a propane gas detector installed (or several depending on the configuration of your home). Should you decide to purchase a propane gas detector, you must still act if you smell gas, even if no alarm has gone off. Also, carefully follow manufacturer instructions with regards to installation and maintenance.
What to do if you smell gas
Propane leaks pose a threat if there is a spark or source of ignition nearby and if the mix between air and propane is right. However, these simple reflexes help reduce the risks of accidents and are easy to acquire:
- DO NOT light a flame or initiate a spark and turn off any materials that cause smoke or flames.
- GET OUT of the building: get everybody in the building to leave the area immediately as soon as you suspect a leak.
- IF SAFE, TURN OFF the propane tank supply to your home by shutting off the service valve (turn the valve clockwise).
- CALL your propane company’s emergency or safety number to report the leak. If you cannot reach them, call 911 or the fire department.
- STAY AWAY from the area until an expert (from the company or local authorities) tells you it is safe.
- HAVE YOUR SYSTEM CHECKED by your propane company or a qualified service technician to ensure it is leak free before turning the gas on.
What to do if you suspect carbon monoxide is present
Propane appliances that are not functioning properly (if the propane combustion level is suboptimal) may release carbon dioxide. This can also happen if vents or chimneys get blocked. Yet carbon monoxide is a highly dangerous gas – extreme cases of carbon monoxide intoxication can cause brain damage and even death.
Propane users who suspect the presence of carbon monoxide, or who feel dizzy, have a headache, suffer from sudden fatigue, are short of breath or suddenly nauseous should:
- EVACUATE the building and call 911 (or the local fire department);
- ALLOW FRESH AIR to enter the home by opening windows (if it is safe to do so);
- TURN OFF appliances that they suspect are releasing carbon monoxide (if it is safe to do so);
- CALL your propane company or a qualified service technician for an inspection.
Carbon monoxide detectors are easy to find and purchase and greatly reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. You should ask your propane company whether they sell and install carbon monoxide detectors. If they do not, you can buy carbon monoxide detectors on the Internet or in gas appliances stores.
Similarly, have your company’s qualified service technicians inspect your home regularly and especially before the heating season to ensure appliances are working properly and reduce the risk of carbon monoxide presence.
It is important also to remember to:
- never use gas ovens or top-range burners for heat;
- never use portable heaters indoors unless they have been designed for that purpose; and
- never use an outdoor grill for indoor cooking/heating.
Running out of propane, maintaining propane appliances and lighting pilot lights
Propane users should avoid running out of propane at all costs. Appliances cease to function and, if they want propane after hours, they are likely to be charged a hefty emergency delivery fee (between $150 and $200 on average, although it depends on the company).
More importantly, running out of gas increases the risk of having a propane leak. Indeed, if an appliance valve is not shut off or a gas line is still open, refilling the system will propane might cause a leak.
Similarly, appliance lights go out when you run out of propane, which is also very dangerous. If the propane/air mix is right, propane leaks can lead to a fire or even an explosion when ignited. This is why running out of propane always warrants having your company perform a leak check.
In general, appliances should be maintained by experts, either independent from your company (more convenient since you have a single number for propane and maintenance). Propane appliance manufacturers list the installation and maintenance criteria, which should be followed closely and are best left to technicians.
It is highly recommended to have your propane system (including appliances) inspected once a year, preferably before the heating season. Avoid modifying or repairing propane appliances yourself – you might damage them and risk exposing you and your family to injury and even death.
Pilot lights are key to the good working condition of propane appliances. If you notice an appliance pilot light goes out often or does not light easily, call your propane company or a qualified service technician. Attempting to light a pilot light yourself may lead to a fire or explosion.