Residential Natural Gas Safety Tips
Tips to stay safe at home
Did you know: Something as simple as planting shrubs, installing a fence, mailbox post, or sprinkler system can create a dangerous situation. State law requires you to call at least two business days before you or your contractor start digging. Here's what else you have to know as a homeowner:
- Mark the dig area with white paint or stakes.
- Don’t move or alter the marks until the facilities are exposed.
- Note the length of time markers remain valid. It varies by state.
- Hand dig to expose the utility line when you dig within two feet of the marked area.
- Use sand or rock-free dirt as backfill.
- Property owners can call 811 requesting private locates for any non-utility facilities (such as sprinkler systems).
Call 811 two business days before you start.
Colorless, odorless and lighter than air, natural gas becomes combustible when mixed with air and exposed to an ignition source. To help you detect a gas leak quickly, we add a sulfur-like, rotten egg stench. But here are a few more signs, plus some preventative steps you can take.
Look out for these signs.
- Blowing or hissing sounds.
- Dust blowing from a hole in the ground.
- Continuous bubbling in wet or flooded areas.
- Dead or discolored vegetation in an otherwise green area.
- Pilot lights that won't light but still emit gas.
Prevent gas leaks.
- Secure your natural gas water heater to a wall so it won't fall over.
- Store all flammable materials away from natural gas appliances.
- Keep the area around your furnace and water heater clear.
- Keep combustible materials away from gas appliances.
- Teach children to stay away from the gas range and all gas-burning appliances.
- Keep ranges and ovens clean to avoid grease fires.
- Never use the oven or range to heat a room.
- Don't let children swing from gas pipes.
What to do if you smell gas.
- Don't do anything that could create a spark. Smoking, matches, turning electrical switches on or off, even using the telephone could start a fire.
- Evacuate everyone from the area, and keep others away.
- Call911 and Avista at(800) 227-9187 from a neighbor's home.
- Stay away from your home or building until Avista says it is safe.
- Never try to fix a damaged natural gas line or restrict gas flow in any way. Avista needs to inspect the line.
What else you can do:
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas. It can be produced when combustion of any fuel—heating oil, gasoline, diesel fuel, propane, kerosene, natural gas, coal, or wood—takes place without sufficient oxygen. You can't see or smell it, so CO can accumulate unnoticed and make you ill or even cause death.
The symptoms of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning
The initial symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to the flu, but without a fever. They include:
- Shortness of breath
If you suspect that you or someone is experiencing CO poisoning, get to fresh air immediately. Leave the home and call for assistance from a safe place. You could lose consciousness and die if you don't escape the CO gas.
Get medical attention immediately and inform medical staff that CO poisoning is suspected. Call Avista at (800) 227-9187 and do not reenter the home until we say it is safe.
You may encounter a gas line that was inadvertently bored through a sewer line. If you're cleaning out a sewer line with a rooter device:
You may see these signs:
- Bubbles rising through standing water or in the toilet bowl.
- A strong natural gas odor at the cleanout or inside the building served by the sewer line.
- Dirt blowing from a hole in the ground.
- A hissing or whistling noise.
- An area of dead vegetation.
- Evacuate everyone immediately and leave the building's door open.
- Don't turn on or off any light switches, or use other sources for ignition.
- Call 911 From a safe distance and Avista for immediate assistance.
Not sure if a gas line was damaged? Use our free service that checks to be sure. Call Avista at (800) 227-9187.
- Side wall vented appliances: Carefully clear accumulated ice and snow from the meter and keep all appliance exhaust vents on the side of your home or business clear from obstructions. Be sure to regularly clean and repair leaky seams in your gutters and downspouts to prevent melting snow and ice from dripping onto the meter.
- Kids can learn how to use energy safely and responsibly on our e-SMARTkids site. There are resources for parents, teachers can request a school presentation for grades 3 through 6, and more.
How your meter is tested
Natural gas is one of the safest, most reliable fuels there is. But over time, we need to do maintenance on our system to keep it safe. Avista performs several safety inspections on an annual basis.
To ensure your safety, Avista employees wear photo identification, and
authorized contracted representatives also have identification. Whether
an Avista employee or contractor inspects your natural gas meter or
piping, they should be willing to identify themselves, explain what they
are doing and provide you with identification if requested.
Access to your home is usually not needed to perform maintenance for most natural gas meter or piping inspections. However, it may be necessary to relight the natural gas appliances in your home if your meter is changed out. If this happens, our employee or contractor will contact you to arrange a convenient time to relight your appliance. To ensure your safety, do not attempt to relight your natural gas equipment yourself.
Our safety inspections include:
- Leak Survey - We can check the gas pipeline with highly sensitive equipment that can detect natural gas levels a far below what you can smell.
- Pipeline Monitoring - Buried steel pipelines are monitored to ensure that adequate protection measures are in place so that the pipe doesn't deteriorate.
- Meter Inspection - We periodically inspect your gas meter to check for corrosion and other safety concerns. We may paint and take a picture of the meter for our records.
- Gas Meter Swaps - Meters are taken out of service when they are at the end of their service life. This may require a disruption in your service. If required, we will relight your appliances at a convenient time.
- Each year about 4,000 natural gas meters are randomly selected for testing.
- In order to conduct the test, natural gas meters must be taken out of service and replaced.
- If your meter is selected for testing, you will be notified in advance because your natural gas service will be temporarily disconnected.
- After your meter is replaced, an Avista service representative will check and relight your appliances.
- An adult, 18 years or older, must be present for the service representative to access the home to check and relight appliances.
- Each meter is tested at the factory by the manufacturer.
- Avista randomly tests meters from each pallet received by the company before putting the meters into service.
- Avista's authorized contractor in Washington to assist with natural gas meter testing is RDI Heating.
Excess Flow Valve
An excess flow valve (EFV) is a device that automatically restricts the flow of natural gas if an underground pipe is punctured or severed. Such damage may result from excavation. However, an EVF does not shut off the flow of natural gas completely and the best way to protect against such incidents is to ensure that anyone excavating on your property has called 811 to have all underground utility lines properly marked before digging. Anyone performing excavation is responsible for immediately contacting Avista to report any damage to natural gas facilities.
It is important to note the following information about EFVs:
- Installation of an EFV will not protect against customer appliance malfunction, customer houseline natural gas leaks, small natural gas service line punctures, or natural gas meter leaks.
- EFVs are not suitable for all applications.
- An EFV may not protect against damage to natural gas service lines from earthquakes or flooding.
The EFV is installed underground on the service pipeline that runs between the natural gas main (usually located in or near the street, alley, or easement) and the Avista meter on the customer’s property. Generally, the EFV is installed as close as possible to the natural gas main. In some instances the location may need to be installed further from the natural gas main to accommodate interference from other buried structures. EFVs may only be installed on Avista’s natural gas pipe by Avista employees or its approved contractors for safety reasons.
EFV’s have been installed on most new and replaced natural gas customer services since 2008, however, beginning on April 14, 2017, existing natural gas customers without an EFV on their natural gas service may elect to have one installed at the customer’s request and expense. Installation costs vary greatly due to different conditions within our service territory. Customers will be billed for actual labor and materials costs associated with the installation. Estimates for cost and time frame for construction will be provided as requested on a case-by-case basis. There is no ongoing maintenance cost for the customer.
Installation feasibility will be based on a site visit by an Avista Customer Project Coordinator. If the installation is feasible, then the EFV installation will be made within a mutually agreeable time.
If you would like to pursue having an EFV installed in your service line or if you would like to find out if you already have an EFV, please call us at (800) 227-9187 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Buried natural gas piping
If you have buried natural gas piping between your meter and your natural gas equipment, you should be aware of the following information.
While Avista is responsible for maintaining natural gas equipment to the point of and including our meters, natural gas piping between the meter and gas equipment is the homeowner's responsibility. This gas piping normally serves equipment in the home and is most often metallic.
Occasionally a customer may choose to run additional underground natural gas piping to a barn, shop, pool heater, or other living unit. Because this underground natural gas piping may corrode or leak if not properly installed or maintained, it is recommended you have the piping periodically inspected.
There are local plumbing or heating contractors available to help in determining where these lines are located and to perform inspections or repairs. Any unsafe conditions discovered in buried customer piping should be repaired or corrected immediately. Many new types of buried piping beyond a customer's meter are made of polyethylene plastic, which requires a special license to install.
If you are considering installing buried piping between your meter and other natural gas equipment, be sure to hire a licensed contractor to ensure all work will be done in accordance with all state and local codes governing underground gas piping systems. In addition, if you plan to excavate or build around existing gas piping, locate the lines in advance and only hand-dig.
If you have concerns about your buried natural gas piping or if your piping needs repair, please contact your local licensed plumber or heating dealer.