Gas Odors and Pilot Lights

Gas Odors

Natural gas is odorless and colorless.

As a safety precaution, PG&E adds a sulfur-like odor to natural gas to help people identify gas leaks.

Figure 1.1

Safety Tips

  • Keep a flashlight handy to investigate minor gas odors. Never use matches or candles to look for gas leaks, and never turn any electric switches on or off if you suspect a gas leak.
  • Check pilot lights to see if they are lit.
  • If the smell of gas continues, or if you have any doubts, open windows and doors and get everyone out of the building. Using a phone away from the building, call 9-1-1 and PG&E at 1-800-743-5000.
Gas Odors

Many older gas appliances and most water heaters have a small, continuously burning gas flame – the pilot light – that ignites the main burner. Some newer models have electronic igniters.

Figure 1.2

  • Know which of your appliances have a pilot light.
  • Know how to relight any pilot lights following the appliance manufacturers' instructions. Often, basic relight instructions are located inside the main burner compartment door [as shown above in figure 1.2]. If you cannot relight the pilot light yourself, call PG&E or another qualified professional for assistance.
  • If the pilot light is out, shut the gas off at the appliances gas shutoff valve. Always wait five minutes to let gas disperse before trying to relight an appliance pilot light.

Don't Just Rely On Your Nose

Although PG&E adds a distinctive odor to natural gas as a safety precaution to assist in the detection of leaks, you should not rely solely on your sense of smell to determine if natural gas is present.

There are a number of reasons why your sense of smell alone is not enough to alert you to the presence of natural gas. Some people may not be able to detect the odorant because they have a diminished sense of smell, or because they have smelled the same odor for too long or because the odor is being masked by other odors in the area.

There are also certain conditions that may cause the odor to "fade" so that it is not readily detectable. Odor fade, or loss of odorant, occurs when the odorant in the gas is diminished because of physical and chemical processes.

Here is some important safety information you should know about our natural gas system:

  • DO NOT rely on your sense of smell alone to detect the presence of natural gas.
  • In addition to the odor added to natural gas, the following signs may indicate the presence of a gas leak:
    • Hissing, whistling or roaring sounds
    • Damaged connections to gas appliances
    • Dead or dying vegetation in otherwise moist areas over or near pipeline areas
    • Unusual soil movement or bubbling water
    • Exposed pipeline after an earthquake, fire, flood or other disaster
  • When installing gas appliances or equipment, the manufacturer's instruction manual should be followed in accordance with the local code authority.

For more detailed information, please see a copy of a letter (PDF, 23 KB) PG&E is sending to various contractors in California.