Tenant’s Guide to Safe Natural Gas Usage

I live in an old house. My apartment is in a subdivided house that was built in 1902 and I love it. I love the tall ceilings, the absurd amount of windows, and the million tiny odd changes made by tenants and owners for the past 100 plus years. My love affair with my apartment comes to an abrupt end at about the middle of November, when the temperature drops and I’m suddenly aware of how many cracks a house collects in a century long existence. My old house uses natural gas for heating, and at first I was nervous about using it. I asked my property manager about how to safely use natural gas and they gave me some great advice that kept me from shivering for the next four months.

Safety Tips

  • Never try to light a pilot light or work on a natural gas powered appliance yourself. Leave all the maintenance on water heaters, wall heaters, and heating units to certified professionals.
  • The pilot light should always burn blue. If a yellow or orange flame is present, alert your landlord and the natural gas company immediately. This may be a sign of needed maintenance or other problems with the unit.
  • Ask your technician to check the temperature of the water heater. Natural gas powered water heaters should be kept at a comfortable 120 degree Fahrenheit. Any higher and you risk burns, particularly for children and the elderly.
  • Keep the area around any natural gas units clear of furniture, debris, and flammable material. Regularly clean the lint trap in your dryer.
  • Never use a non-heating device (like a stove) to heat your home.
  • Consider installing carbon monoxide detectors in your home. Ask your landlord to provide them.
  • Check that landlord supplied fire extinguishers are functional and up-to-date.
  • Don’t hesitate to alert your landlord if anything about your natural gas service seems off.
Natural gas is much safer than many "inventive" heating solutions.
Natural gas is much safer than many “inventive” heating solutions.

What if I smell natural gas?

When I was a kid I knew two things about natural gas. It can kill you fast because it’s odorless. Natural gas smells like rotten eggs. I was understandably confused and hyper vigilant about any scent in our house that could possibly resemble an egg. The reason for these contradictory statements is that they’re both true, sort of. While the gas itself is odorless, natural gas companies add a chemical called mercaptan that gives the gas a rotten egg smell. If you notice a rotten egg smell in a home that uses natural gas, adhere to the following rules.

Natural gas pilot lights should always be blue.
Pilot lights should always burn blue.

Natural Gas Leak Safety

  • Leave the building immediately. Evacuate your family members and any pets.
  • When you get to a safe place, call your natural gas company first and then contact your landlord.
  • Do not start a vehicle if it is in an attached garage. Don’t use an automatic garage opener.
  • Don’t use matches, open flames, cigarettes, or an open flame inside a house with a suspected leak.
  • Don’t use an electrical switch in the home.
  • Don’t use your cellphone or a landline
  • Stay out of your house or apartment until a natural gas company representative arrives and you get the all clear to reenter your house.

Rest easy

Natural gas is safe, despite the generalized anxiety some people have around an open flame. Talk to your landlord about safety tips and precautions that are specific to your unit to ease your mind about using natural gas. Rest easy, and stay warm.

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Elizabeth Hayes

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  • what is a gas burp and is it safe? there is one outside my infants window. my landlord denies issue and wont have gas company look into it but i smelled gas and the fire marshal said it was a gas burp. is this safe? does it need to be fixed?

By Elizabeth Hayes

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