Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted with permission from Techletter, a biweekly training letter for professional pest control technicians from Pinto & Associates. To subscribe, visit www.techletter.com.

Technicians may find themselves facing natural gas or propane hazards, especially in older homes or around older appliances. Most newer natural gas appliances have electronic ignition and automatic shutoff valves that prevent a burner from activating if the pilot light is not lit. Older stoves and appliances still have pilot lights that burn continuously…except when they fail and gas odor is detected.

Natural gas has no odor of its own, so gas and propane companies add an odorous chemical, mercaptan, to their products so that leaks can be detected. Mercaptan smells differently to different people. Some say it smells like sulfur or rotten eggs, but most everyone recognizes the foul smell. If you smell a slight smell of gas in an account, notify the resident or manager. Don’t attempt to relight a pilot light yourself.

GAS CONNECTORS. If it is your job to pull gas stoves or dryers away from the wall during service, be very careful. Gas appliances are supplied by flexible metal connector hoses, some of which can be quite old. Older connectors can be corroded or too short and can break when extended. Some uncoated brass connectors manufactured more than 30 years ago have been found to be susceptible to separating from the tubing when moved.

DON’T WASTE TIME. If you detect a very strong gas odor or if you hear a hissing or blowing noise, it’s a very serious situation:


  1. Vacate immediately, warning others and leaving doors open as you go. Don’t spend any time trying to open windows or finding the source of the leak. Just get out.
  2. Don’t stop to phone for help until you and others are well away from the site.
  3. As you go, don’t use or do anything that could create an ignition spark, and instruct others to follow your lead. That means do not turn off light switches or electrical appliances. Do not use anything electrical or that has a battery, including your cell phone or flashlight. Don’t use a landline phone. Don’t smoke or light matches.
  4. Don’t even start or move your vehicle if it is parked next to the building.
  5. Once everyone is away from the site, call 911 for emergency assistance. Warn others to stay away and await instructions from responders and the gas company.

The authors are well-known industry consultants and co-owners of Pinto & Associates.