Main Menu

Propane Safety

Illustration explaining how to close your propane gas supply valve

Living with Propane

Propane is a liquid hydrocarbon that vaporizes into a colorless, odorless, highly flammable gas. In properly maintained and operated systems, propane is completely safe. However, it can be extremely dangerous if an uncontrolled release of propane occurs. In order to detect an uncontrolled release of propane, an odorant, usually ethyl marcaptan, is added to propane.

Propane plays an important role in our everyday lives. Propane is used not only as an efficient energy source for heating and cooking but also is used extensively in manufacturing and agriculture. To most consumers, propane is an invisible fuel, transported in tanks and underground, ready to use in your home or business. But, like all fuels, it must be handled wisely to ensure safety.

You should know:

  • Propane is flammable and may cause fires and explosions.
  • No odorant is effective to warn every user all of the time.
  • Improperly vented or defective appliances can cause life-threatening carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Colds, allergies, smoking, alcohol or age can affect your ability to smell any odor.
  • Strong competing odors may mask the odor of escaping propane. Continued exposure to any odor including odorized propane, can cause you to get used to the odor and fail to detect its presence. The strength of the odor is not a reliable indicator of the amount of gas present.
  • Propane is heavier than air, making floor-level leaks hard to detect. When smelling for propane, be sure to smell at floor level.
  • Exposure to certain masonry materials may lessen the effectiveness of the odorant

Always be sensitive to the slightest propane gas odor. Any gas odor may signal a serious leak. Investigate all foul odors. What you may think is garbage, sewage or a dead rodent may be a serious propane gas leak.

Odor Fade

On rare occasions, propane gas may lose its distinctive odor. This is called "odor fade".

  • Air, water and rust in a propane tank or cylinder may weaken the gas odor, especially if the valves are left open after the container has been emptied.
  • Sometimes propane gas can lose its odor if a leak occurs underground.
  • Odorant can be absorbed by building materials such as unpainted or untreated masonry and rough wall surfaces, furniture fabrics and drapes, and inside walls of gas piping and static or periodically used propane storage containers and distribution systems.

Electronic Gas Leak Detectors

Under some circumstances you may not smell a gas leak. Therefore, it is important to install an electronic gas detector in your home. When operating properly, these detectors may provide an added measure of safety, however, they are not 100 percent reliable and may give false alarms or may fail to signal when propane is present. Never ignore the smell of odorant, whether or not the detector is signaling the presence of propane. Leak detectors must be properly installed and maintained according to the manufacturer's instructions. Gas leak detectors are not a substitute for properly odorizing propane or a properly maintained system.

Never Empty Tanks

When a propane gas tank is close to being empty, you may get a momentary whiff of odorant when stove top burners are ignited. However, if the smell lasts more than a moment, the odor means you may have a serious propane gas leak. Any persistent odorant smell is your signal to take immediate emergency action. Do not assume your tank is nearly empty.

Emergency Propane Safety Procedures

If you suspect a gas leak, do not do anything that can cause a spark or flame. Any spark or flame in the are where propane gas is present may ignite the gas.

  • Immediately put out smoking materials and other open flames.
  • Do not turn lights on or off.
  • Do not use any type of phone.
  • Do not operate any type of equipment or appliance.
  • If possible, close all gas tank, cylinder or gas meter supply valves. Tank and cylinder valves turn off in the clockwise direction. Gas meter valves are in the off position when the handle is perpendicular to the piping.
  • Vantilate the area.
  • Get everyone out, and leave the area at once.
  • Call your local fire department from a safe place such as a neighbor's home.
  • Do not re-enter the area until it has been inspected by a professional and determined to be safe. Make sure the area has been aired out prior to your return.

Important Safety Reminders

  • Never enter an area where you suspect a gas leak.
  • If you suspect a leak, do not do anything that can cause a spark or flame. Do not smoke or operate light switches.
  • Always be alert for any propane odor. Even a faint odor may indicate danger.
  • Repeated pilot outages may signal a problem with your system. Don't attempt to relight the pilot or service your equipment.
  • If you choose to light your own pilots, follow all of the appliance manufacturer's instructions.
  • Before lighting a propane gas appliance, sniff the area at floor level. Don't light the appliance if you smell gas.
  • If your appliance has been flooded, shut off the gas immediately at the tank. Do not use the appliance until the equipment has been checked and serviced.
  • Improperly vented or defective appliances can cause life-threatening carbon monoxide poisoning. Have your propane system and appliances regularly checked by your propane dealer or qualified appliance repair service.
  • Don't use tools to operate controls. If controls are difficult to operate by hand, call your propane dealer.
  • Keep combustible products like gasoline, kerosene or cleaners away from propane appliances and tanks. Your appliance pilot lights could ignite fumes from these products.
  • Always ready instructions carefully prior to operating any propane gas appliance.