GIMME SHELTER- Smell rotten eggs? Make sure it's not gas

DJ Manafi
Charlottesville City Gas Operations

Q: We heard that last Wednesday was "Gas Safety Awareness Day." What should we be aware of? 

A: Yes, last week Mayor David Brown declared Wednesday "Gas Safety Awareness Day" in Charlottesville to let people know that natural gas, while a great energy resource, can be extremely dangerous, leading to fires, explosions, carbon monoxide poisoning, and suffocation if people aren't careful. While Charlottesville Gas has an excellent safety record relative to the tremendous volumes of gas we carry, pipeline accidents can and sometimes do occur. For that reason, we're also launching a Public Awareness Program to urge our citizens to become aware of underground pipelines in their communities, and to understand how to recognize the odor of natural gas and how to respond if they detect possible gas odors. Early recognition of a gas odor and proper response can save lives. It's important also that excavators understand the steps that they can take to prevent third party damage and respond properly if they cause damage to our pipelines.

Because natural gas is odorless, a substance called mercaptan is added to give it the smell of rotten eggs. A faint odor may mean the pilot light has gone out, requiring relighting, but if someone in the household notices a strong smell of rotten eggs, everyone should leave the house immediately. 

And remember, don't use the telephone, matches, or turn on any lights, as that could ignite the gas. From a neighbor's phone or cell phone, notify Charlottesville Gas immediately at 911, 970-3800, or 293-9164. Also, no one should re-enter the house until they're told to do so. 

To prevent this situation, it's a good idea to periodically have a professional inspect all gas appliances to make sure they're vented and properly adjusted. Also, make sure to follow the manufacturer's directions for care and use of natural gas appliances; keep the appliances clean; keep combustible material away; teach children not to play with the appliances; and never use a natural gas range to heat your home. Of course, it's also a good idea to install fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, and carbon monoxide detectors. 

Once you've taken care of safety issues, it's also a good idea to think about ways to conserve gas. At night, set your thermostat back to 60 degrees (although elderly persons should be careful about doing this, as they are more likely to get sick), or, if you don't have one, think about getting a programmable setback thermostat. In fact, the City offers a rebate to gas users who do. 

Also, open shades or drapes during the day to take advantage of the sunlight, and close them at night. Closing off rooms that aren't often used is another good move, as well as installing weather stripping in windows and doors where you feel a draft. Wrapping water pipes and making sure the fireplace flue is closed will also save energy. Finally, check your furnace filters frequently, and consider upgrading the insulation in your attic, basement, and crawl spaces if you haven't already done so. 

DJ Manafi