When people think of propane leaks they imagine propane explosions or intoxication. In fact, propane accidents are quite rare: between 2003 and 2007, the National Fire Protection Association recorded 1,170 fires, 34 deaths, 135 injuries and $48 million in property damages. Yet you are more likely to be struck by lightning (100 deaths per year).
Risks associated with propane leaks
Avoiding propane leaks remains crucial for your safety. First, propane leaks can lead to a fire if a spark is ignited in the area. Second, propane is heavier than air, which can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. However, propane itself is not toxic or dangerous for the natural environment (soil, water, plants, etc.).
The best way of avoiding propane leaks is to prevent them by ensuring your propane appliance system is installed and configured properly. This is why propane companies recommend that you have your entire propane system inspected once a year and offer to perform leak checks to detect potential leaks (or if you run out of propane) and make the necessary adjustments or repairs. Propane companies can also include maintenance and repair services, all of which help prevent propane leaks.
Ensure your propane company covers leaks
It is important, when deciding on a propane company, to verify which companies offer leak tests, gas system inspections, maintenance and repairs. It is also vital to check which company is closest to you to ensure they can intervene quickly. Therefore, as you choose your propane company, you should request quotes from different dealers and compare the services they offer to select the one that is best suited to your situation.
What to do if you suspect a leak
Propane has a very strong smell because an odorant is added to ensure it can easily be detected if there is a leak. It is in your interest to familiarize yourself with the smell of propane. And if you suspect a leak or smell propane:
- Do not use material that could lead to a flame or spark (lighter, appliances, etc.).
- Leave the area at once and ensure people around follow you.
- Turn off the gas supply (turn your gas supply valve to the right).
- Call in the leak: call your propane company, fire department or 911.
- Stay away from the area until told it is safe by your propane company.
- Request a leak check (legal requirement before the gas can be turned on).
Checking for propane leaks
The easiest way of checking for propane leaks is using liquid dishwashing soap mixed with water and spraying it on the connection or seal you want to check. If the solution produces bubbles, a leak is present. Small bubbles point to a small leak, whereas large bubbles mean there is a more important leak. Also, when there is a leak, some propane tanks will make a hissing sound (though this could also be a case of your fixed liquid level gauge or relief valve being slightly open, which poses no threat).