Winter Is Coming: Tips for Using Natural Gas Safely in San Diego Homes

Paving Stone Porch

With colder weather on the horizon, our gas appliances are likely to get more use. We’ve discussed winterizing your Southern California home already, but let’s drill down a bit further and focus on maintaining gas appliances inside and outside of the home, along with some handy advice from San Diego Gas and Electric about how to monitor natural gas usage in general.

Maintaining Gas Appliances: Who is Responsible?

SDG&E is responsible for maintaining the gas line that runs to your home’s meter. However, homeowners are responsible for maintaining the gas lines that run from the meter to appliances in the home. Keep in mind that a number of homes also have gas lines running into the backyard to appliances such as barbecues and outdoor fireplaces.

If monitoring natural gas appliances sounds like a daunting task, keep in mind that SDG&E offers free appliance home safety checks. To schedule an appointment, call SDG&E at 800-411-SDGE (7343). Customers may also schedule an appointment online.

“After months of non-use, customers may be unaware if their furnace is not operating properly,” said Caroline Winn, vice president of customer service for SDG&E. “Scheduling an appliance safety check is an easy way our customers can make sure their gas appliances are in good working order.”

Not only can these appointments help homeowners identify problems, but the inspector can walk you through what he or she is looking for and why.

Carbon Monoxide Risks

A gas furnace or fireplace that’s not functioning properly can emit carbon monoxide. This colorless, odorless, tasteless gas is formed when carbon-based fuels, such as kerosene, gasoline, propane, natural gas, oil, charcoal or wood, are burned with inadequate amounts of oxygen, creating a condition known as incomplete combustion. Carbon monoxide poisoning in humans occurs most often in confined spaces, like the home, where the gas can’t ventilate out.

Homes in California are required to have carbon monoxide detectors, but it’s up to residents to make sure the batteries are in good working order. Some suggest using the fall time change to also signal changing batteries in devices like this.  Carbon monoxide detectors should be replaced every five to seven years or so, while smoke detectors can last a bit longer at ten years.

Signs of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The early stages of carbon monoxide poisoning include:

  • Unexplained nausea
  • Unexplained drowsiness
  • Mental confusion
  • Flu-like symptoms

What to Do if You Expect a Carbon Monoxide Leak

If carbon monoxide is suspected, the following immediate actions are recommended:

  • Turn off the appliance. If safe to do so, immediately turn off the suspected gas appliance.
  • Evacuate. Evacuate the premises and call 911.
  • Seek medical attention. Seek medical attention if anyone in the home experiences possible carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms.
  • Call for appliance inspection. Contact SDG&E at 800-411-SDGE (7343) or a licensed, qualified professional immediately to have the appliance inspected.
  • Don’t use the appliance. Don’t use the suspected gas appliance until it has been inspected, serviced and determined to be safe by SDG&E or a licensed, qualified professional.

General Gas Safety Tips From SDG&E

As mentioned already, annual gas line and appliance inspections are critical but here is what else you can do at home:

  • Make sure that pilot lights and stove burner flames are burning blue. Occasional orange flecks are OK, but if the flames are burning soft yellow in color, this could be a sign of carbon monoxide.
  • Check for soot build-up which may be a sign of incomplete combustion happening in the appliance.
  • If the furnace has a yellow pilot light and there’s soot build-up, do not turn it on. Instead, shut off the gas and call a licensed contractor or SDG&E.
  • Don’t use your gas stove or oven as a heat source when the weather gets cold.
  • When lighting your gas fireplace for the first time during the seasons, make sure that the damper is open first.
  • Don’t store anything near a gas appliance that may disrupt air flow.
  • Don’t store or use combustible products near a gas or heat generating appliance. This includes gasoline, spray paints, solvents, insecticide, adhesives, foggers, varnish, cleaning products and other pressurized containers.
  • If you have a floor furnace, make sure to keep kids away from the venting as well as rugs or anything that may block air flow.

If a leak is suspected, it’s possible for residents to turn off the home gas supply. SDG&E has directions online for turning off gas in an emergency, however, you may want to call to verify if this is necessary. Each gas appliance in the home has its own shut-off valve so if the leak is near a specific appliance, it may be better to shut the gas off there rather than the supply to the entire house. If you do shut the household gas supply off, SDG&E will need to come out to turn it back on.

Locating Your Outdoor Gas Pipeline

The gas pipeline leading up to your home runs underground until it meets your home’s meter.  But, do you know where underground it is? In a lot of cases, these pipelines run underneath landscaping. Before you have that giant palm tree planted, it’s always best to dial 811 to have someone come out and identify where the line is so you don’t accidentally hit it.

Also, those of us with gas barbecues have gas lines running underground to the backyard, too. Do you know where these lines are? If not, it’s a good idea to find out, especially if gardening is a hobby.

How to Recognize a Pipeline Leak

Gas leaks are dangerous but do you know how to spot one? Here’s what SDG&E suggests that we look for:

  • Dirt or water blowing in the air.
  • Dead or dying vegetation (in an otherwise moist area) over or near pipeline areas.
  • A fire near a pipeline.
  • Exposed pipeline after an earthquake, fire, flood or other disaster.
  • An unusual sound near a gas pipeline, such as hissing.
  • The smell of natural gas.

An odor is added to natural gas to help enable detection but this alone can be tricky as people have varying senses of smell, the smell could be masked by another nearby odor or the added odor may have faded. Therefore, just because you can’t smell a natural gas leak doesn’t always mean that there isn’t one.

Keep in mind that if a leak is suspected, do not do anything that may cause a spark. This includes starting a car engine nearby. And, of course, seek help immediately. SDG&E is available at 1-800-411-7343, 24 hours a day.

Your Turn…

What did we miss? Is there anything else you do to maintain gas appliances in the home?

*Photo credit: Top, SDGE; fireplace, Flickr/mossimoinc; burner,; fireplace