Power outages can be a pain. They can be a big pain if they last a long time. Most preppers already know plenty about power outage preparation, including unplugging major appliances and other important devices to prevent damage in case of a surge when the power comes back on.
But something you might not have considered if you have natural gas appliances in your home is whether or not you should turn off the gas when the power goes out. Should you?
No, generally you don’t have to turn off the gas when the power goes out. Modern, electrically operated gas appliances use failsafe shutoffs whenever power is cut.
Now, you should never hesitate to cut off the gas supply in the aftermath of a natural or man-made disaster, but for incidental power outages caused by passing storms or other mishaps, you can leave the gas on.
We will talk about all of the variables and other considerations in the rest of this article…
No Major Damage, Usually No Need to Shut Off the Gas
Broadly, if the gas supply network in your community, or just in and around your property is not damaged or facing the prospect of damage from whatever knocked out the power in the first place you don’t need to go to the trouble of turning off your gas.
This is going to be the case most of the time.
For example, if a tornado or earthquake takes out power lines and causes widespread damage in your neighborhood or region then it might also have damaged natural gas pipelines.
In this case, you would want to turn off your gas as soon as possible to try and prevent a leak and dangerous buildup of gas.
But if the power is off due to some branches falling on lines from a windy thunderstorm or similar event, then the gas lines are probably just fine and you can leave your gas on.
Modern Gas Appliances Use Failsafe Shutoffs
In all but cases where there is a risk of damage to gas lines, there is no need to shut off your gas when the power goes out, especially when you have modern appliances.
The main reason for this is that your appliances most likely already have a safety feature in the form of a gas supply failsafe that kicks in whenever electricity is lost.
Appliances with an automatic shutoff feature will usually turn back on and restore the flow of gas when power is restored and they sense a return to normal conditions.
However, for some models or after a lengthy outage you may need to first manually reset the appliance by pressing a button or flipping a switch.
Newer Gas Furnaces Rely on Electricity for Ignition
Although it seems counterintuitive, these appliances (furnaces, water heaters, and the like) use electrical ignition instead of the old school, always-on pilot light to function.
If electricity is lost, these igniters will not function, and if gas was allowed to flow in the course of normal operation or whenever activated it would build up – unburned – near the appliance and in your home.
That is how catastrophic gas explosions happen. Not good!
To prevent this, these appliances have a sensor that detects when electricity is lost and immediately shuts off the flow of gas to the device.
Older Furnaces Use Pilot Lights
Now, the above scenario is not the rule, and even today there are many older gas appliances that use traditional pilot light ignition.
In this case, the pilot light is always on and burning, providing a small but consistent flame that ignites the main burner whenever the appliance is turned on.
When the power goes out, these pilot lights usually continue to burn and can provide normal operation even in the absence of electricity.
This is a good thing if you want to keep them operating normally even when the power is out, but if the pilot light goes out you’ll need to relight it manually.
However, compared to more modern appliances these older ones pose more risk of gas buildup, especially if the pilot light is snuffed out.
You might activate, or try to activate them, not knowing that the pilot light is out and that could allow gas to flow freely and build up as described above.
Though you don’t necessarily need to make it a point to shut off the gas to these appliances just because the power is out, you’ll need to be extra diligent about turning them off and verifying their status in the aftermath of any event that might cause a malfunction.
Never Hesitate to Shut Off the Gas Whenever an Unsafe Condition Might Exist
There is one golden rule to remember whenever you are considering whether or not to turn your gas off: whenever you suspect that an unsafe condition might exist, it is always better to be safe and shut your gas off.
This goes for anything from severe weather damage to a merely suspected gas leak. If you have any doubts whatsoever, it is always best to turn off the gas and have a professional inspect your appliances and lines.
Whenever the power goes out, you should assess the situation to determine if there is any risk of damage to gas lines. If there is, you should shut off your gas as soon as possible.
With knowledge of where the valves are and the right tools this is quickly and easily done. Don’t risk it!
If You Smell Gas During a Power Outage, Evacuate!
Natural gas is odorless. In the United States and throughout much of the world, natural gas is doctored with an additive called mercaptan that lends it that characteristic “rotten egg” smell.
This is done so that in the event of a gas leak you’ll be able to quickly and easily identify it.
Remember: if you can detect the strong smell of natural gas, there is too much building up! Don’t wait, evacuate!
Get out of the house as quickly as possible, and do nothing that might cause ignition- no lights, no phones, no flames, etc.
Call 911 and notify your utility company from a safe location. Do not return until you are absolutely certain that it is safe to do so.
You Don’t Need to Shut Off the Gas Supply for Short Term Outages
To summarize, you only need to be concerned about shutting off your gas in the event of a power outage if there is a risk of damage to your natural gas lines and older appliances.
Otherwise, you should feel free to leave your gas on and appliances running as usual.
Modern appliances have a number of safety features that will shut off the gas flow in the event of an outage, so you don’t need to worry about them.
However, if you are without power for an extended period of time you may want to consider shutting off your gas as well.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.