A staggering $1.1 trillion — that’s how much the US spent on energy alone back in 2017. Meaning, each person in the US spent about $3,495 that year just for energy!
Of the primary sources of energy used in the US, natural gas takes the lead. It accounted for almost a third (31%) of primary energy consumption in 2018. That year, total natural gas consumption reached 30 trillion cubic feet (Tcf).
The residential sector used 17% of that. Natural gas, after all, goes towards heating about half of all homes in the nation.
As essential as it is to our lives though, exposure to natural gas could have serious health effects.
The question is, what exactly can natural gas exposure do to you and your loved ones? Most importantly, what can you do to be sure that your gas-powered furnace remains safe to use?
We’ll answer all these questions in this post, so be sure to keep reading!
A Primer on Natural Gas
Natural gas isn’t corrosive or toxic, and it produces low levels of pollutants. It has a high ignition temperature rate and a narrow flammability range. All these properties make it safer than many other fossil fuel sources.
Natural gas is safe for human use, but it should be properly contained and secured. One reason is that natural gas contains simple asphyxiants, including methane and ethane. It also has low levels of propane and butane, which have toxicity potential.
All these gases can mix with the air inside your home through a faulty furnace. This gas-powered system can develop leaks, which then allows the gas to escape. This is one of the most common ways that exposure to natural gas occurs in US homes.
To prevent these hazards, be sure to keep in mind the following ways to heat-safe your home.
Keep the Area Around Your Furnace Clear
Methane (CH4) is the primary component of natural gas, accounting for at least 90%. In its pure form, CH4 is an odorless, colorless, and non-toxic gas.
Still, CH4 is highly-flammable, not to mention a type of simple asphyxiant. Asphyxiants reduce the amount of oxygen in the air, which can then lead to suffocation. It can even cause an explosion if it reaches a concentration of between 5% and 15% in the air.
Because of CH4’s undetectability, gas distributors add mercaptan to natural gas. Mercaptan is the component of natural gas that gives it its rotten egg smell.
Although mercaptan makes natural gas in the air easier to detect, it is flammable. It’s also an irritant, and when burned, produces toxic fumes.
This is why you should always keep the area around your furnace clear of any clutter. Don’t stack up combustibles like paper or empty bottles of alcohol and nail polish near it. Anything that can catch fire shouldn’t be near your furnace.
Invest in Gas Detectors
Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is another hazard related to the use of natural gas. CO is a by-product of combustion, which is what occurs when you burn natural gas for heating. Like CH4, CO is also odorless and colorless, but it’s very toxic.
In fact, CO poisoning lands 50,000 people in emergency departments every year. It also claims at least 430 lives each year.
You can protect your loved ones from these dangers by installing gas detectors. Carbon monoxide alarms will go off as soon as they detect high amounts of CO in the air.
Proper Maintenance of Gas-Powered Equipment
Schedule professional natural gas furnace maintenance at least once a year. The best time for this is just before the heating season, as it gives you enough time to get your home heater prepped up.
This also gives you more time to address issues, such as a faulty pilot light or a busted heat exchanger. Here’s a page where you can learn more about common gas furnace problems you should fix ASAP.
Don’t forget your other gas-powered appliances, such as water heaters, dryers, and ranges. A natural gas heating system service provider should inspect them at least once a year too.
Replace Worn Gas Seals ASAP
Seals and gaskets keep the natural gas from exiting the gas line that connects to your furnace. They’re there to keep the gas flowing straight to your heater.
Over time though, they will lose their elasticity and become brittle. For instance, “O-rings” have a typical life span of five years. After this, they lose their ability to seal and will let gas escape from the gaps.
If you can’t remember the last time you’ve had your furnace gas seals changed, now’s a good time to do so. The gaps will only grow bigger, allowing more gas to leak out. By then, you and your loved ones can already be at serious health and safety risks.
If you hear hissing sounds coming out of the gas line though, leave your home right away. This is a solid sign that you have a gas leak, and you should report it ASAP to your gas company.
Always Have a Clean Filter in Your Furnace
Something as simple as a dirty furnace filter can already damage the heat exchanger. That’s because a clogged filter forces the furnace to work harder. That, plus the restricted airflow, can cause the heat exchanger to overheat.
Over time, this overheating can cause stress cracks in the heat exchanger.
Keep in mind that the heat exchanger traps and contains the combustion gases. So, once it develops cracks, it’ll allow these gases — from CO to CO2 — to escape into the air.
To prevent these damages and the deadly hazards they can bring, inspect your filter at least once a month. Wash or replace it as soon as you see dust, dirt, and debris build-up on it.
Prevent Exposure to Natural Gas by Keeping Your Furnace in Great Condition
There you have it, your ultimate guide on how to keep yourself and your family safe from exposure to natural gas. So, be sure to follow these furnace maintenance tips so your family can stay warm, comfy, and safe this winter!
Ready for more tips and tricks to keep your home healthier, safer, and more secure? Then be sure to check out the other guides filed under this site’s Lifestyle section!