Natural gas has steadily become one of the most used sources of energy in homes across the United States and much of the world. It beats out more traditional fossil fuels such as coal and other hydrocarbons like crude oil. Its use has grown significantly in recent years as natural gas production has become more plentiful thanks to increasingly accessible underground reserves.
But what is natural gas used for? This article will explain how natural gas is most commonly used in homes, along with some of the precautions and hazards you need to know about when dealing with natural gas. You’ll also learn about gas meters, including where to find them and how to turn them on and off.
What Uses Gas in a House?
Natural gas is used for a variety of purposes in homes across the country. While electricity remains the most used energy source in homes, natural gas is right behind. Gas is also used for electricity generation, which means it’s indirectly used by homes in this way as well. That said, the primary use of natural gas is in systems and appliances that have been specifically designed to run on this type of fuel.
While there are several forms of this multi-purpose energy source, the most common are compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG), the latter of which is used more for transport than in homes.
Some of the most common uses for natural gas in homes include:
- Heating and cooling air
- Providing gas for ranges (stoves and ovens)
- Laundry dryers
- Barbeque grills and fire pits
What Uses The Most Gas in a House?
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the majority of natural gas used in homes is for space heating, which includes both air and water. But whether homes use natural gas or not depends on the type of water heater and central heating system it has.
These factors are based at least partially on geography — places with a lot of exposure to the sun can take advantage of solar-powered water heaters, and places in warm weather climates may not have central heating.
In locations with warmer conditions, homes will typically see less natural gas consumption for water heating and central heating and more natural gas usage for things like gas stoves or outdoor fireplaces. Furthermore, factors such as home size and construction materials affect both the amount of gas used and the way in which it is used.
Does Heat Use Gas?
Yes, heat uses natural gas in most instances, at least in the United States. The percentage of American homes that use gas for heating is over 50%, with electricity providing 37% of homes with heat. Other options for heating homes include electric space heaters and propane heating, though propane is less common. Some electric power is generated using natural gas, so even in an indirect way electric space heaters can still run on gas as a base source of energy.
Does Converting to Natural Gas Add Value to Your Home?
On average, homes with natural gas have a 6% higher resale value than those without, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). The value may be perceived as even higher since neighborhoods that lack pre-existing natural gas pipelines have seen campaigns to bring gas pipelines into their areas. This might also be a case of making these homes easier to sell down the road rather than actually improving their value.
Can Natural Gas Appliances Run On Propane?
Appliances designed to run on propane are able to run on natural gas, but it’s advisable to only make this substitute after installing a conversion kit. Why? Because of the difference in properties between these gases: natural gas molecules are much smaller and are delivered at much higher pressure than propane.
Running anything on natural gas that was designed for propane will allow more gas through the orifice and cause an unnecessarily large, and potentially dangerous flame. Conversion kits are relatively easy to install and change the size of the orifice to regulate the amount of gas that comes through. This works for other gases as well, such as ethane, methane, or butane.
Natural Gas Precautions and Hazards
Natural gas has a better safety record than other major forms of energy, but its use still requires caution. Potential hazards can include explosions, large fires, and the risk of suffocation, either from smoke inhalation or carbon monoxide poisoning that can result from improperly burned gas.
Fortunately, natural gas cannot burn or explode on its own. It requires specific conditions and a source to ignite combustion. Here’s some helpful information to avoid unwanted damage and potential injuries or even death.
Do You Smell Gas In Your House?
Natural gas is inherently colorless, odorless, and non-toxic — but the gas used in homes is altered as a safety precaution in the event of a leak. Invisible gases that cannot be smelled are a problem if they’re highly flammable or combustible. As such, it’s standard practice to add a chemical to natural gas that smells like sulphur or rotten eggs.
If you smell something that stinks like rotten eggs and you suspect it could be gas, turn off anything that could be causing the leak (such as your stove), ventilate the house, and turn off the gas from the gas meter. Leave your home immediately afterwards and call 911.
If you live in an apartment building, alert the building manager or concierge. Make sure you refrain from turning on any switches, even for lights, and do not under any circumstances light any matches or any other open flames.
What Not To Do If You Smell Gas?
There are several things that you should never do if you smell gas. First and foremost, refrain from entering any building or premises if you smell a strong odor that could be gas. Absolutely do not light a cigarette or spark a flame for anything else, whether you are indoors or outdoors. Refrain from turning on any electrical appliances or any electrical switches, including light switches. Also, do not use any phone, landline or cellular, while you are able to smell gas.
Can Breathing in Natural Gas Harm You?
Inhaling a small amount of natural gas is generally not harmful, though it can affect people in several ways. Gas can cause dizziness, fatigue, nausea, headaches and irregular breathing, though these symptoms usually subside soon after moving away from an area with a gas leak and into fresh air.
Typically, if symptoms return when entering your home and taper off when going back outside, there’s a strong chance there is a gas leak. If these symptoms occur but you are not able to smell any gas, it may be a result of a carbon monoxide leak, which is serious and needs to be fixed immediately by professionals. If you suspect you have a carbon monoxide leak, leave the premises and contact your local fire department or 911 immediately.
How Do You Detect a Natural Gas Leak?
There are three main ways to detect a natural gas leak, and using all three in tandem can help to determine if a leak is likely apparent.
The most important is smell. If you smell anything resembling sulphur or rotten eggs with no discernible source, it may be caused by a gas leak.
After that, listening is the next best way to determine if a leak is occurring. If you hear an unusual hissing noise from any pipes or areas that may contain gas pipelines, it could indicate a leak.
Lastly, using your sense of sight can help determine if there is a natural gas leak either inside your home or in the neighborhood. If you see bubbling in puddles or dead vegetation in areas that are otherwise healthy, there may be an outdoor leak. If you see a yellow flame instead of a blue one in any gas-fueled appliances, there may be an indoor leak.
It is critical to address any of these leaks as soon as possible as they could lead to explosions or carbon monoxide poisoning.
Does Natural Gas Turn Into Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is also an inherently colorless and odorless gas, but unlike natural gas, it is toxic. When natural gas is not completely burned it can lead to an imbalance of fuel and oxygen that creates CO. Natural gas normally only creates water and carbon dioxide when properly burned, neither of which is toxic.
However, this does not necessarily make natural gas any more dangerous than other sources of energy. All fuels that are burned, including coal, wood, oil, kerosene, propane, and others have the potential to produce carbon monoxide as a byproduct.
Because natural gas is delivered directly into homes via pipes rather than in tanks you purchase like propane, it is charged by measuring usage. This is done by using gas meters. These meters measure the amount of gas used by any individual house or unit that has access to the gas line and is responsible for the associated utility bills.
In many apartment buildings, the use of gas is included in condo fees or a standard monthly rate because the building shares natural gas usage. But any units or houses that are responsible for their own gas usage will have an individual gas meter to determine how much is used on a monthly basis and how much needs to be paid.
What Does A Gas Meter Look Like?
Gas meters look similar to electricity meters and can be read in the same way. You can identify each type of meter by the units on the dials. Most natural gas meters are made with four dials, though five-dial models are also common and digital displays are also used in many places.
Natural gas meters are typically located close to the ground, and are usually in a basement or, most commonly, outside the home or residential building. Outside meters are normally a few feet above the ground and often have protective posts to ward off accidental damage.
Where Is the Gas Meter Number Located?
Gas meter numbers are found directly on the meter, usually on the front. The same number is usually also included on your gas utility bill, either at the top or the bottom of the page. In almost all areas, the number is strictly numeric and does not contain any letters.
How Do You Turn On a Gas Meter?
Gas meters should be turned on as soon as the gas supply is active. To turn it on is easy: simply rotate the outward valve handle to the “on” position, which is almost always vertical. Soon after turning on the gas connection, the gas meter dial should move quickly before stopping no more than 15 seconds after the connection is made. This is the indication that gas is properly flowing into your home.
Who Is Responsible for Your Gas Meter?
Gas meters can be installed by homeowners, but it’s typically done by the supplier. It’s also usually installed after the service has been set up. As soon as your gas meter is installed and set up, the homeowner or other consumer (such as a renter) is responsible for maintenance of the meter itself, while gas companies are responsible for regular maintenance of gas lines that enter the meter.
How Do You Tell If Gas Meter Is On or Off?
Gas entering your home is regulated by an isolation valve that is fitted immediately upstream of the gas meter. This valve is required by law to move between the on and off positions by a quarter-turn of a standardized handle. Both positions are clearly marked:
- The valve is on when the handle is pointing up
- The valve is off when the handle is pointed at a right angle away from the meter
A Few Final Facts About Natural Gas in Your Home
Across North America, natural gas is not only distributed directly to homes, but it’s also an important raw material (feedstock) for power plant processing plants in creating electricity. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) states that using natural gas in this manner, along with gas delivered into homes, will help in the fight against climate change due to its lower carbon emissions and pollutants (provided it’s paired with products that are designed for energy efficiency).
Companies are working hard to bring power to your home using natural gas in this capacity. Whether it’s direct to your home or through electricity generation, there is an emphasis on providing the most reliable and useful form of fuel available to consumers today.
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