A cozy warm home, a comforting stew in winter, or grilling some burgers on the barbecue. These are just some of the ways we use natural gas in our homes.
We’re all accustomed to natural gas as an easy-to-use energy source that complements the electric power in our homes to facilitate our modern lifestyle. But what is natural gas used for at home? Let’s look in more detail at the many uses and formats of natural gas and how they affect our lives and the planet.
What Types of Gas Are Used in the Home?
Before looking at how we use gas at home, let’s explore the different types of gases involved and how homeowners access them.
Natural gas consists of methane, propane, ethane, butane, and carbon dioxide, according to Naturalgas.org.
Areas without natural gas pipelines can access gas two ways, using liquefied natural gases (LNG) called propane and butane. When liquefied, both propane and butane can be stored in tanks and cylinders and connected by pipes to individual appliances or to run an entire home.
Compressed natural gas (CNG) is methane gas that remains in its gaseous state. It is stored in tanks under very high pressure, making it easy to transport. Its main use is to power vehicles.
These natural gases are not a renewable energy source but are considered the cleanest of fossil fuels. Natural gas releases carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and water vapor as byproducts when burned at processing plants, among other particulates and pollutants. Using them at home or for commercial uses causes greenhouse gas emissions to pollute the Earth’s atmosphere.
What Uses Gas in a House?
There are many uses for gas in a home, the biggest being for heating and cooking.
In the kitchen, natural gas can power:
- Ovens, cooktops, and ranges
- Refrigerators and freezers
- Space heaters
There are propane or natural gas furnaces that can heat entire homes. Fireplaces or space heaters heat individual rooms. Natural gas boilers provide heating as well as on-demand hot water.
For laundry, gas-powered appliances include dryers and washing machines supplied with hot water from a natural gas water heater.
Natural gas is also used outside in the garden and yard. Outdoor grills, fire pits, patio heaters, and yard lamps can all run on natural gas, as well as pool heaters. There are even propane-powered generators that provide emergency electricity generation during electricity outages.
What Uses the Most Gas in a House?
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), more than half a home’s energy consumption is for heating and air conditioning.
In the home, heating and air conditioning dominate energy needs, so boilers, furnaces, and space heaters use the most gas in a house. Energy-efficiency promoter Energy Star found that natural gas furnaces boast the best energy efficiency of all furnaces, beating oil
There are cheaper gas prices to add in, too. The American Gas Association (AGA) estimates that families with gas-powered homes save around $874 annually on bills compared to electricity-powered homes.
Businesses can save money by adopting cogeneration, also known as recycled energy. One example of cogeneration involves power plants using the hot vapors leftover from burning gas to warm buildings or power steam generators.
In 2019, the EIA found that the United States residential sector used 12 quadrillion British Thermal Units of energy. Natural gas accounted for 43% of that supply (5 quadrillion British Thermal Units).
Adding in the 27 quadrillion British Thermal Units of gas consumption for commercial uses, the United States used a total of 31 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas in 2019.
The predominant use of natural gas in the United States in 2019 was to create electricity at power plants, with 36% of natural gas burned to drive generators that produce electricity.
Can Natural Gas Be Used for Heating?
Natural gas heats people’s homes using furnaces, boilers, and space heaters. There are many varieties, with options to buy natural gas, propane, oil, and electricity-powered appliances.
Furnaces heat air that is transported through your home by ductwork. Gas and oil-based furnaces burn fuel to create that heat.
Boilers heat water or steam that is transported through pipes to radiators to warm a building. Hot water can also be heated.
Space heaters are smaller, portable heating devices that are ideal for people who want to heat a smaller area or just one room, not the entire building. These, too, can run on electricity, oil, natural gas, and propane.
Does Converting to Natural Gas Add Value to Your Home?
There are many variables to consider before paying to install natural gas. If your neighborhood has gas available, you need to check how much it will cost to connect to your home.
The general feedback from agents is that home buyers like to have energy options when buying a property. A home connected to the gas network affords choice, making it more attractive and it may even sell quicker.
In 2010, The National Association of Home Builders members compared prices of newly-built homes with a natural gas supply and those with electricity only. They found that the connected natural-gas homes sold more quickly and at prices around 6% higher than the electricity-powered homes.
Can Natural Gas Appliances Run on Propane?
You can run natural gas appliances with propane, but only after installing a conversion kit and possibly changing ventilation, burners, and more.
If you start to run your natural gas appliances with propane without a conversion kit, you can put yourself in grave danger. You may also affect any insurance or warranty cover you may have.
Natural gas has much lower pressure than propane, and its fixtures and fittings allow more gas to flow than for a similar propane-based appliance. Suppose you attach a propane tank or cylinder to a natural gas appliance. In that case, the high-pressure propane flows faster, resulting in a larger — and potentially dangerous — flame.
Many appliances only use one of the gases, so you must always read the appliance’s instructions. If your appliance is convertible, we advise talking to a professionally licensed engineer. You may need to change more than fixtures and fittings.
Natural Gas Precautions and Hazards
The use of natural gas in your home is not one to be taken lightly — it is a volatile and flammable raw material that demands respect.
In the United States, you must call 811 before digging in your back garden or yard, planting a tree, or excavating. The 811 call advisors will let you know about any utility lines — natural gas pipelines — in your area.
Make sure you know where all appliances turn off, and if you’re on the main gas supply, you need to know where your natural gas shut-off valve is located. If required to close the valve, keep a wrench or screwdriver close to it, which is very handy in an emergency.
Install carbon monoxide detectors in your home. Carbon monoxide is hazardous and can be fatal. It is invisible and odorless and can build up unnoticed in your home.
Maintain all gas appliances regularly by a licensed natural gas contractor to keep everything working safely. Your state or province should have a list of licensed natural gas contractors, or you can ask a natural gas provider, too.
Keep your fireplace and furnace vents clean. Fireplaces and space heaters can get very hot, so buy a fireguard and be very careful using them when children are around.
Most importantly, if you smell something akin to rotten eggs in your house, immediately vacate the premises, and once outside, call emergency services (911 in the United States). The smell may indicate there is a gas leak in your building.
What to Do if You Smell Gas in Your House?
Natural gas is odorless and colorless. Mercaptan is a foul-smelling gas that is added to natural gas at natural gas plants so that humans can smell when there is a gas leak.
Escaped gas affects soil nutrients, so discolored soil and dead vegetation may indicate an underground burst gas pipe. Be aware that you may not always hear a gas leak.
If you smell gas in your home:
- Immediately vacate the premises.
- Call 911 once outside.
- Leave your door of entry open to allow gas to escape.
- Warn others not to enter the building.
- Stay on scene until emergency services arrive.
What Not to Do if You Smell Gas?
Natural gas is a very flammable gas that can ignite with the smallest spark. If you smell gas, do not:
- Make any calls from a landline or cell phone inside the building.
- Smoke, light a match, or use any other naked flame.
- Use doorbells, turn on any lights, or any electrical equipment that can cause a spark.
- Re-enter the building, or let anyone other than emergency services or gas supply workers enter the building.
- If you are on the phone when you notice the smell, do not hang up until you are outside the building.
Can Breathing in Natural Gas Harm You?
Yes, breathing in natural gas can harm you. You are also at risk of harm from the byproducts of burning natural gas.
First, let’s look at natural gas. If there is a gas leak in your home, the introduction of the leak changes the amount of oxygen available. There could be a gas leak if anyone in the house suffers these sudden and unexplained symptoms:
- Breathing problems
- Dizziness or nausea
- Eye and throat irritation
- Pale skin or blisters (these usually occur if skin comes in contact with compressed or liquid gas)
These symptoms can also present themselves in pets. High exposure levels to natural gas can lead to loss of consciousness and even death. If you experience any of these symptoms, please follow the aforementioned guidelines on what to do in the event of smelling gas.
How Do You Detect a Natural Gas Leak?
You can detect a natural gas leak through smell, noise, and sight.
Smell: A rotten-egg odor caused by mercaptan.
Noise: You can hear some gas leaks — it’s usually a hissing noise as high-pressure gas escapes.
Sight: Natural gas affects soil quality; an underground leak could change soil color and kill surrounding vegetation or be apparent as a constant bubbling. If your furnace, range, or heater has a yellow flame instead of blue, it’s a signal that the natural gas is not burning correctly.
Does Natural Gas Turn Into Carbon Monoxide?
Natural gas can turn into carbon monoxide if it is not burned correctly. Breathing in carbon monoxide is potentially fatal. Poorly fitted and badly-maintained appliances or blocked ventilation like chimneys can lead to a buildup of carbon monoxide in a home.
Low-level exposure to carbon monoxide can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, tiredness, confusion, breathing difficulties, and possible stomach pain. The longer you breathe in carbon monoxide, the worse your condition will get, potentially leading to difficulty thinking and rapid changes in emotional states. Once away from the carbon monoxide source, symptoms slowly disperse.
High-level exposure to carbon monoxide produces rapid and more dangerous effects. Your mental state may change, creating feelings of intoxication coupled with vertigo. Damage to the brain and nervous system can cause loss of physical coordination. You may experience breathlessness and a heart rate of more than 100 beats per minute, chest pains caused by a heart attack, and seizures. You may also lose consciousness, and death may soon follow.
Gas meters measure the amount of gas a property uses. Utility companies install gas meters at a point between the main supply in the street and the house distribution point.
Your natural gas usage is measured in cubic feet. You may be billed in cubic feet or therms — a therm is equivalent to around 100 cubic feet. The meter turns faster the more gas that flows through it.
What Does a Gas Meter Look Like?
There are two types of gas meters in North America: an analog meter or a smart meter.
An analog meter looks a lot more old-fashioned than a modern smart meter. An analog meter may have a series of four to six dials that measure with arrows, or a single row of five or six dials that increase the number displayed as you use more gas. You will need to take readings from these analog meters when paying bills or moving into or out of a property.
A smart gas meter looks similar in size, but its display is an electronic face and numbers appear in digital form. Your gas utility can read your smart gas meter at any time, so your bill is always accurate.
Where Is the Gas Meter Number Located?
All residential and commercial properties connected to the gas network have a meter installed so that utility companies can identify gas use and send appropriate bills.
There are a wide variety of meters, meter numbers, and billing methods across the United States.
With an analog meter, look on the meter’s central body for a series of numbers, usually between five and up to 12 digits long. You may find two sets of numbers — jot down both, then call your utility company to confirm which is your meter number.
Smart meter numbers are already known by the utility company when you move into a property or have one installed. You can check a previous bill for the number, or call the company.
How Do I Turn on a Gas Meter?
Gas from the street that feeds into your home can be turned on and off at the gas meter. You may need a wrench, spanner, or screwdriver to complete the task. If you are unsure, please call your utility company. If you damage the meter, you could cause a potentially dangerous gas leak and possibly pay a fine.
The gas flows from the street pipes into your home when the valve is open. The valve’s open position is parallel to the main incoming or outgoing line that connects the meter to the street supply.
You can close off the supply by turning the valve 90 degrees, perpendicular to the main incoming or outgoing line. To reinstate the gas supply, turn the valve back to be parallel with the main pipeline once more. This video will help with a visual explanation.
Who Is Responsible for Your Gas Meter?
According to both state and federal law, gas or utility companies are responsible for gas meters in the United States. The company must maintain all pipes and lines that lead up to the gas meter from the street.
The property owner is responsible for all gas pipes from the gas meter into the property. You need to keep any pipes and fittings in good working order, so regular inspections are essential. If you’re not a homeowner and are a tenant, check your tenancy agreement to see who is responsible for your gas meter.
How Do You Tell if Your Gas Meter Is On or Off?
The foolproof way to check is to locate your gas meter and look at the valve position. If it’s parallel to the main incoming or outgoing pipe, the gas meter is on, and the property can access gas. If the valve is perpendicular to the main incoming or outgoing pipeline, the gas meter is off.
Suppose you are on the property and using gas. In that case, you can usually tell the gas meter is on because not only do you have a live supply of gas, but your gas meter’s dials will be moving, albeit slowly.
Natural Gas At Home
Natural gas makes much of our lives more comfortable at home, providing warmth, heating our food, and even helping us with the laundry. It’s an affordable and reliable energy source that is easy to transport. It also demands our respect because of its flammability and ability to cause fires and explosions. It can even fatally poison us.
At current usage levels, there are around 52 years of natural gas left. Russia is home to approximately 24% of those reserves, and Iran about 17%, with Qatar having 12.5%, and the United States around 5.3%.
Brought to you by amigoenergy
All images licensed from Adobe Stock.