EVANSVILLE — While investigators have not publicly identified the cause of the deadly home explosion on North Weinbach Avenue, experts say there are simple, affordable products that can help protect residents from a natural gas leak inside a structure.
Indiana law requires all dwellings to have at least one functioning smoke alarm, but there is no requirement for homes supplied with natural gas to have a methane detector or alarm. The vast majority of states do not require the devices, but they can be purchased locally in Evansville, and experts say they save lives.
At least one store had to restock the detectors due to a bump in purchases following the explosion.
How can you tell if there's a natural gas leak?
Mark McDonald, president of NatGas Consulting, said utility companies add an odorant to otherwise odorless natural gas to help people detect a leak through their sense of smell. But everyone’s sense of smell differs, and he suggests natural gas customers purchase a methane detector as a precaution.
“The thing that’s important is there’s a simple fix: get a methane detector, natural gas detector,” McDonald said. “The industry is starting to embrace it now, and the government is starting to require it in certain places too.”
Too few natural gas customers are aware these detectors are available, he added. In residential homes, natural gas is typically used in appliances like stoves, water heaters and to provide heat through a furnace.
CenterPoint Energy also suggests customers with an inhibited sense of smell install a methane detector, according to written safety guides published on the company's website.
Where can you get a methane detector?
Evansville residents can purchase a simple methane detector at hardware stores such as Ace or Home Depot. Specialty lock and alarm stores also carry the devices, which can sell for as little as $49 but can fetch upwards of $200 depending on the set of features.
Allen Cox, an employee at the First Avenue Ace Hardware, said the store sells an explosive gas and carbon monoxide alarm manufactured by First Alert for $64.99. Sales of the device picked up following the North Weinbach home explosion.
“It can show you the levels of the gas in the air,” Cox said. “People have been coming in for them recently. We actually had to order more about a week ago.”
The Home Depot off Pearl Drive, according to its website, sells a natural gas and carbon monoxide alarm manufactured by Firex for $49.97. Many home security systems also offer explosive gas detector devices.
Evansville house explosion brings natural gas safety into focus
Evansville Fire Department spokesman Mike Larson saidthe Weinbach explosion may have helped bring these detectors to the forefront. Until recently, he didn't know methane detectors were an option for homeowners.
"A lot of times, an incident like what happened here in Evansville can heighten awareness on something like that," he said. "From a personal standpoint, I think it sounds like a pretty good idea."
This year, the state of Maine began requiring natural gas detectors in most dwellings following a propane explosion that killed one firefighter and injured seven people. McDonald said utility companies have fought against such laws in the past, citing the costs associated with an increased number of service calls and false alarms.
Larson said he's unaware of EFD ever receiving a call for service based on a residential methane detector. And McDonald said the industry has begun to support broader adoption of the devices in recent years.
“We aren’t there yet,” McDonald said. “We need to progress to that level where it becomes common, so that people in the home who can’t smell it for whatever reason can hear that alarm go off.”
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This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: Natural gas safety: An alarm like this could save your life