Rented an apartment, but the natural gas smell is too much
May 10, 2016 10:05 AM   Subscribe

My newly rented apartment has a distinct odor of natural gas in the living room/kitchen adjacent to the gas fireplace, furnace, and water heater. The rental company (on site) has been notified and is getting a work order together for it, but I'd like some proof other than "Smells like it to me...". Is there a measurement I can take to show that it needs to be fixed?
posted by underflow to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Don't know where you are or what your building is like, but in general the gas company will take this very seriously and come right out to investigate.
posted by mskyle at 10:06 AM on May 10, 2016 [32 favorites]

Call your local natural gas utility company-- the one that supplies your apartment-- and ask them to come out and do an inspection. Preferably today. This is not a thing to mess with.
posted by BlueJae at 10:07 AM on May 10, 2016 [19 favorites]

Call the gas company. They should send someone to check it out. Leaking gas is dangerous
posted by tman99 at 10:07 AM on May 10, 2016 [7 favorites]

The gas company will be delighted to send someone out right away with a spiffy little tool that can detect and measure even traces of natural gas. They will be delighted because they really like visiting lots of houses just in case (even when there's clearly no emergency) rather than very few houses after explosions.
posted by cogitron at 10:11 AM on May 10, 2016 [48 favorites]

F the rental company, call the gas company right away.

I moved into an apartment once that had what I could only describe as "maybe a weird metallic smell, I don't know" that only I could smell. My BF could not smell it and I thought I might be imagining it. Decided to call when I got a headache even though I hate to be a squeaky wheel. ConEd was there in 10 minutes and discovered the pilot light was too high and burning the stovetop. They saved my sanity/life and I wasn't even officially a customer yet as it was an illegal sublet.
posted by kapers at 10:17 AM on May 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

If you can smell natural gas (rather, the additive), it's dangerous. I personally would not be spending time in a place where I could actively smell gas. I wouldn't even be standing outside - I'd be standing outside *across the street* or maybe even on the next block. Not something to take lightly. As kapers said, the gas company usually sends flyers/mail periodically telling you to contact them right away in this sort of case!
posted by freecellwizard at 10:23 AM on May 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

Yes, call the gas company. I suspect that this is normal -- natural gas appliances do smell a little bit (keyword: little bit) of natural gas, and if you have a sensitive nose that isn't yet accustomed to the smell, it's sometimes noticeable. The fact that you only smell it near the gas appliances, and by all the gas appliances instead of just one, makes me suspect that this is what is is.

(When I first moved into an apartment that had natural gas, this freaked me out because of how I'd heard that if you smell ANY gas, there's a leak and you're gonna die.)

HOWEVER, the risk here is big enough that you want to be safe rather than sorry, and the gas company will agree. Definitely call them. They'll ask you some questions and probably send someone over. It will not be much of a hassle. They'll tell you what to do. You might discover some problem with your appliances.

Honestly, I'm a little concerned that your rental company is dragging their feet. The one time I called my rental company about a gas smell, they sent someone over RIGHT AWAY.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:33 AM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Your nose cannot tell the difference between a miniscule but detectable gas concentration and a dangerously high one. Furthermore, if you are exposed to the scent for a while your brain will stop noticing it entirely for a while. Therefore, one does not remain in enclosed spaces when one has detected the smell of gas. Call the gas company directly from outside. Now. To quote my gas company, "Do not use anything that could be a source of ignition, including cell phones, flashlights, light switches, matches or vehicles, until you are a safe distance away." We have a gas dryer and water heater, and I have never smelled it around those appliances except when a pilot light was out. And you would be doing a service to yourself and the other residents to inform your management that the correct maintenance response to a possible gas leak does not in any way involve "getting a work order together". It is possible that you're smelling something else, as sewer gases can produce the same characteristic odor, but the only way to know is a technician from the gas company.
posted by wnissen at 10:45 AM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Please don't wait. I've smelled a faint faint aroma of natural gas near the gas pipe, and when I called the emergency line they sent someone over right away. Turned out there were two very large leaks in the house.

I came in for a hell of a lot of criticism from other household members for being irrational, but the gas company told me it had been in an extremely dangerous state.

tl;dr call the gas company emergency line, even if it's neurotic or alarmist to do so. Like Kutsuwamushi said, call from across the street. Open all your windows and don't flick any switches.

Better to have them tell you it's supposed to smell like that than find out any other way.
posted by tel3path at 10:45 AM on May 10, 2016 [6 favorites]

This is serious. Get out of there, taking your pets with you, and make a call to the gas company when you're well clear. This is not something you want to underestimate. I can only imagine the people in your rental company office are actually dead drunk, not to be responding appropriately.
posted by praemunire at 10:50 AM on May 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

I just had this issue at a rental, but I wasn't sure if it was normal (because in Texas, our water heaters were out in the garage, rather than a tiny closet in the house as it is here in Michigan). I talked to the landlord who was all, "If you're worried, call someone" in his normal lackadaisical way. We waited months and then the next tenants toured the house and demanded we get it fixed before they would even apply to assume our lease. The gas company came out and shut it down right away. There were 3 leaks in the house.

Just wanted to Nth the others above. Just call the gas company.
posted by getawaysticks at 10:59 AM on May 10, 2016

In specific answer to your question, get a "plug in carbon monoxide and explosive gas detector" from Home Depot. Plug it in where you smell the gas. If it goes off, use that as leverage with the landlord. Make sure that you call while the alarm is going off, so he can hear it in the background.

Your landlord could be dragging his feet because that apartment has always leaked, and people always complain, and nobody has ever exploded.

The smell of the odorant in natural gas occurs at concentrations that are not explosive or dangerous, but you shouldn't be able to smell it *at all* inside unless the furnace or water heater has just ignited. If you smell it chronically, it needs to be fixed.

You can actually look for the leak yourself, with a squirt bottle full of water that has been made sudsy with dishwashing soap. Being specific with landlords gives them less excuse to blow you off.

Find the corrugated metal line that provide gas for the furnace and water heater, and sniff around the fittings at either end. Then get some of that sudsy water on them, and see if it blows bubbles. If you see bubbles, then it is leaking there.

By the building code, you have to have a manual shutoff valve for each gas appliance. Find that valve for each of the appliances, check with your nose, and spray it with sudsy water and look for bubbles. The cheapo gas valves that are often installed upstream of low-demand appliances like gas fireplaces often leak.

If you don't have pilots on your appliances, you can do another experiment with the manual gas valves to see if an appliance valve is leaking. If you do have pilots, then you must be entirely comfortable and competent with shutting down the power to the device (so it won't try to ignite the burner during your experiment) and with restarting the pilots after the experiment.

If you don't know if you have pilots on your appliances, and can't tell by looking, then you should not perform any experiment involving the manual valves on your gas lines.

One problem with calling the gas company is that if they verify there is a leak, they'll shut down your gas and you won't have any until the landlord fixes it. Could be inconvenient.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:00 AM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think a house just had an explosion and fire in my area last week - a man and his dog died in the fire.


I have definitely called for stuff like this. Even if a hose is loose and leaking that is still dangerous. YES YOUR MANAGEMENT COMPANY IS DRUNK ON THE JOB. Just call the gas company, this is what they do and it is no big deal!

posted by jbenben at 11:35 AM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I work for a gas utility. I assure you, we take safety every bit as seriously as other comments suggest. Please call. And please post again to let us know how things turn out.
posted by nickmark at 11:43 AM on May 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

Called the gas company, they sent someone over within 20 minutes, found a leak on a valve leading to the gas fireplace. He shut off the supply to it and red tagged it.

We won't be completing move in until it's repaired.

Thanks all!
posted by underflow at 11:46 AM on May 10, 2016 [61 favorites]

The safest answer, as so many people have pointed out, is to call your gas company immediately and leave the area with the smell. This is the official advice your gas company almost certainly gives on its website.

However, if you want some physical confirmation beyond the smell one thing you can do is to spray all the joints and fittings of the gas pipes (assuming they are accessible) and look for bubbles. A gas worker I met once used windex. This video suggests dishsoap and water and shows what the bubbling looks like.

If you choose not to leave the area you can at least open the windows to ventilate the area until someone can arrive to assess the leak.
posted by Wretch729 at 11:48 AM on May 10, 2016

Oh wow, I was writing up a reply when you responded. So glad you got it checked out! That's good to hear.
posted by limeonaire at 11:48 AM on May 10, 2016

I'm glad this worked out safely for you! Boo on your rental company for not knowing what to do!

For future readers, in some municipalities you can also call the Fire Department to investigate gas smells promptly.
posted by muddgirl at 12:04 PM on May 10, 2016 [9 favorites]

Called the gas company, they sent someone over within 20 minutes, found a leak on a valve leading to the gas fireplace. He shut off the supply to it and red tagged it.

You could have died. You do not "get a work order" for a gas leak, you (they) call the goddamn gas company ASAP. I would send a strongly-worded letter to their management and seriously consider making an official complaint to whatever authority regulates rental companies in your area.

Hell, if they don't know what to do when there's a gas leak who knows what else they're doing wrong. Is there a working CO detector near the furnace? Smoke alarms? I would seriously worry that these guys don't have a clue about keeping a building safe.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:10 PM on May 10, 2016 [8 favorites]

My god, make a complaint to the management. A gas smell means that the house is filling with gas. Everyone could have died. Seriously.
posted by Toddles at 8:10 PM on May 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

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