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How to Stay Safe with Propane

No matter what type of energy you use, safety is extremely important. With propane—as with electricity, natural gas, fuel oil, gasoline or any other energy source—you need to understand how your delivery system and appliances work and what to do in case of a leak or other safety related emergency.

If you smell gas, avoid flames or sparks! Immediately put out all smoking materials and other open flames. Do not operate lights, appliances, telephones or cell phones. Flames or sparks from these sources can trigger an explosion or a fire. Leave the area immediately! Get everyone out of the building or area where you suspect gas is leaking. Shut off the gas. Turn off the main gas supply valve on your propane tank if it is safe to do so. To close the valve, turn it to the right (clockwise). Report the leak. Call us immediately from a neighbor’s home or other nearby building away from the gas leak. If you can’t reach us, call 911 or your local fire department. DO NOT RETURN TO THE BUILDING OR AREA until an emergency responder or qualified service technician determines that it is safe to do so. Get your system checked. Before you attempt to use any of your propane appliances, A qualified service technician must check your entire system to ensure that it is leak-free.

In its natural state, propane gas is odorless. Companies that produce propane add a chemical called mercaptan to it to give it a distinct odor. Mercaptan is harmless, but it does make the gas smell like rotting eggs. 

The smell of propane itself isn’t dangerous. Instead, the problem is in what the smell might indicate. If you smell rotting eggs or something like a skunk, it could mean you have a propane leak or that your propane system is malfunctioning in some way. Rather than being dangerous, you can think of the smell of propane as a warning sign that you need to vacate the area and call in a qualified technician.

There is one thing worth noting about the smell of propane. Some people have difficulty smelling propane, either due to a reduced sense of smell, a cold or a history of smoking. Over time, the smell of propane can become weaker, too, as the concentration of the odor decreases. Rust buildup in the tank can also interfere with the strength of propane’s odor.

It is also possible that your nose and brain “get used to” the scent so that you no longer notice it. If you are concerned that you will not be able to smell propane, you can install a propane detector in your home to alert you in the event of a leak.

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that can build up; in a home of gas appliances are not properly vented or are used improperly. Carbon monoxide is an invisible danger that is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and very toxic.

Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms include headache, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, and nausea.  If you suspect you or a family member shows physical symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, act immediately by moving everyone out of the home and then call 911 or your local fire department.

Below are a few safety measures you should review with your family to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • NEVER use a gas oven or a range-top to heat your home.
  • NEVER use portable gas-powered heaters indoors unless they’re designed and approved for indoor use.
  • NEVER use an outdoor barbecue grill indoors for cooking or heating.
  • NEVER use a portable generator in a garage or other enclosed area.
  • Keep chimneys, flues, and vents free of snow, ice, and other debris.
  • Consider installing a UL-listed carbon monoxide detector on every level of your home.

Like other fuels, such as oil or natural gas, propane is perfectly safe for use as a home heating fuel. Propane itself is non-toxic, so it will not cause health issues.

If you are concerned about the safety of propane, there are things you can do to protect your family and home. Having your system checked regularly and scheduling regular propane delivery will ensure your system is operating as it should be. You can also install propane gas detectors to help detect any leaks.

Propane has several benefits when used to heat a home and for hot water. If you do not have access to a natural gas line, propane can be a suitable alternative fuel source. Propane also burns more efficiently than other fuels, so you end up using less of it.

Another advantage of propane is that if it leaks, it is released in gas form. You will not have to worry about cleaning up pools of liquified propane gas or about the gas leaving residue or stains on surfaces.

One of the disadvantages of propane gas is that you need to keep the tank filled. Unlike natural gas or electricity, which travel to your home from a central source and are not stored on your property, you are responsible for making sure you always have enough propane for fuel. Automatic delivery can help to keep your tank full at all times, though. 

Another potential disadvantage of propane gas is that it is flammable, meaning you need to take certain precautions around it. For example, you need to know how to store portable propane tanks to reduce the risk of fire and should also know how to care for a larger tank installed on your property. 

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