Did you know that half of the homes in the United States use natural gas for heating? Indeed, the US residential sector accounted for 15% of natural gas consumption in 2020.
One reason behind the popularity of natural gas is that it’s cleaner than other fossil fuels. It’s also efficient, delivering up to 90% usable energy.
Unfortunately, exposure to high natural gas concentrations can risk your health and safety. That can happen if you have damaged pipes or appliances that allow the gas to leak.
Fortunately, a natural gas detector can help mitigate such dangers. This guide details how it can do that and why you should invest in this device, so read on.
What Is a Natural Gas Detector?
A natural gas detector is a safety device that assesses the air for the presence of natural gas. It sounds an alarm upon detection of gas levels exceeding its threshold. A building’s occupants can then leave the area before further gas exposure occurs.
How Does It Work?
A natural gas leak detector works either by catalytic or infrared sensing technology.
A catalytic sensor consists of a detector element, usually a platinum-treated wire coil. It’s sensitive to combustible gases, including natural gas. The wire burns when exposed to such matter, increasing its temperature and resistance.
That rise in resistance triggers the natural gas detector to sound an alarm.
By contrast, an infrared sensor detects combustible gases using transmitters and receivers. Transmitters are usually light sources, while receivers are often light detectors. So, if natural gas flows into the device, it interferes with the transmission between the two.
That interference causes the detector’s alarm to warn people of a potential leak.
Who Needs It?
A natural gas detector is a crucial investment for anyone who uses natural gas at home. It can be for any natural gas appliance, such as a range, oven, clothes washer, water heater, or furnace. It’s also wise to install one inside a room closest to a natural gas generator.
Why Do You Need It?
Natural gas is colorless, invisible, and non-toxic. Its pure form is odorless, though, so utilities add an odorant called mercaptan to it. That additive gives the gas its characteristic sulfur-like smell akin to rotten eggs.
Those foul smells, in turn, are the most common and earliest natural gas leak symptoms.
However, that odor can dissipate or fade, making it challenging to discover a natural gas leak. Moreover, individuals with smell disorders may not be able to smell the gas. Those include the 3% of people in the US with no sense of smell (anosmia) or minimal sense of smell (severe hyposmia).
Unfortunately, while natural gas is non-toxic, its other properties can make it dangerous. Thus, a natural gas detector can help mitigate such risks through the warning it gives.
Natural gas is efficient because it’s highly combustible. When mixed with air and exposed to an ignition source, it can catch fire. Keep in mind that regardless of how small a flame is, it can only take 30 seconds to transform into a massive fire.
If a natural gas detector’s alarm sounds, you can switch off all the natural gas appliances in the room. You can also avoid igniting something within the vicinity of the triggered alarm. That can then help prevent a fire from starting.
A natural gas leak can also cause an explosion if a spark or flame is nearby. Although rare, such occurrences are dangerous, causing injuries and even deaths.
From 2015 to 2017 alone, ten injury cases and 12 deaths occurred in the US in natural gas pipelines. Those figures don’t even include incidents in residential and commercial properties.
Explosions can occur when excessive levels of natural gas build up in an enclosed space.
A detector, in turn, sounds its alarm before the gas reaches such high concentrations. Therefore, you can leave the area and get the leak source addressed before it causes an explosion.
Natural gas is a simple asphyxiant, which means it can displace oxygen in the air. That can cause the air’s oxygen levels to dip, leading to severe health and safety risks.
Low oxygen levels can increase heart rate and result in rapid breathing. Clumsiness, fatigue, and headaches may also occur.
As the air’s oxygen levels further decrease, nausea and vomiting may follow. A person may also collapse, convulse, or become unconscious. Death can occur within minutes after all those symptoms.
You can avoid such dangers by heeding a natural gas detector’s warning. It gives you enough time to leave the room to prevent prolonged exposure.
Does It Only Detect Natural Gas?
If a gas detector explicitly says it’s for natural gas leaks, then that’s the only gas it can sense.
The good news is that some devices can identify more than one gas, and even a few can detect smoke. However, their label must specify the gases they can sense.
For example, some detectors can identify natural gas, methane, and propane. They may even have a sensor for carbon monoxide (CO), another colorless and invisible yet toxic gas. CO, a byproduct of incomplete combustion, kills hundreds of people in the US each year.
Where Should You Install It?
Install a natural gas detector close to natural gas pipes and appliances.
For example, if you have a natural gas-powered oven, it’s best to put a detector in the kitchen. If you have a natural gas furnace in the basement, then place one in there, too.
For windowed rooms, place the natural gas detectors higher than the windows. That way, you can prevent the incoming fresh air from interfering with the devices.
Gas detector manufacturers usually specify where exactly to place their products. For instance, some may tell you to put the device ten inches away from an appliance and six inches from the ceiling. That varies from brand to brand, though, so check the owner’s manual for proper placement.
Note that many modern detectors also require a constant electricity supply. Thus, you need to plug them into a wall socket, so mind the outlet placement in the installation locations.
Protect Yourself From Natural Gas Leaks
As you can see, fires, explosions, and exposures to natural gas leaks can lead to injuries or even death. That’s enough of a reason to invest in a natural gas detector, as it warns you against potential leaks.
Just as important, though, is to ensure each detector’s proper installation. That way, the devices can take accurate readings, minimizing the odds of false alarms.
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