A gas leak

We had a gas leak. It was found by accident and thankfully there was no explosion and we’re all fine. In hindsight Ben and I have both realised that we felt dizzy a few times over the past weeks but we just put it down to a virus. The kids had also both complained of headaches but they too had had some kind of virus so we thought it was just that. I had also smelt gas a couple of times but when I asked the rest of the family to sniff none of them could smell anything so I thought it was my imagination. If you think you smell gas don’t ignore it. There’s a national emergency gas number you can ring – 0800 111 999 and they will come and check it out very quickly.

Last Sunday night one of our downstairs smoke alarms sounded along with the carbon monoxide alarm which is in a room upstairs with our boiler. After our laundry fire last year we installed all new radio-linked alarms to comply with the Scottish legislation. If one alarm goes off they will all sound so I must have done something wrong as I installed 7 alarms which should all be linked but only two of them went off. Of the two we didn’t know which one triggered the other. There was no smoke downstairs and we have a second carbon monoxide alarm in the boiler room which was not reporting an issue. We opened some windows and after a couple of minutes all went silent.

I had a restless night that night as I was worried we’d all die of carbon monoxide poisoning in our sleep so I left a couple of windows slightly ajar. In the morning I rang the company that service our gas boiler (CAS Duncan) and they gave me the emergency gas company (SGN) number. SGN were with us within the hour. In fact when I rang them they wouldn’t let me hang up the phone until I’d turned the boiler off. They are very saftey-conscious. They couldn’t find any issues with the boiler but they discovered a gas leak. Quite a bad leak too: 10mbar drop. They couldn’t find the source of the leak so they capped off our supply and left. CAS Duncan engineers came later the same day and found it.

It was under some floor boards at a join in the copper pipe where it forked off towards an old gas fireplace that has been disconnected. The engineers had some kind of wand device that could detect gas and it went berserk above this bit of floor. This is the room with the downstairs smoke alarm that went off but smoke alarms don’t detect gas so it’s still a mystery why that happened although very fortunate that it did.

Most smoke alarms are very poorly designed. We installed 7 AICO radio-linked alarms at great expense. They cost around £60 each. If you have 7 alarms going off at one time it’s difficult to figure out where the problem is. I’ve since found out that the alarm that triggers the whole system will be flashing red but we didn’t know that at the time and I don’t recall seeing any flashing.

According to the instructions they recommend testing the alarms at least once a month. Our ceilings are 3m high so this requires climbing up a ladder, reaching an arm out to press a button on the alarm, and then damaging your hearing while it blasts at 85 decibels. If you want to download the data from the alarm you also need to climb a ladder and with one arm hold your phone with the app open as close as possible to the alarm while the other hand presses the button on the alarm three times in quick succession. Then it will blast at 85 decibels again for what feels like a minute but is probably only 15 seconds or so.

It’s not good design for a device that’s entire purpose is about keeping you safe to require you to climb ladders regularly and reach arms up to a ceiling while deafening yourself. I’m sure we’re far more likely to have an accident falling from the ladder than dying in a fire.

Contrast this with the Google Nest (and I have not been paid by Google to write this), which tests itself every month and sends the report to my phone without me having to do anything. It alerts my phone if there’s a fire which is handy if you’re not at home, and it measures both carbon monoxide and smoke. We have two Google Nests and also real fire experience as it was the first alarm to report our fire last year. The Nest sent a message to my phone then very politely announced there was a fire and the alarms was about to sound which it then did. I have a the full report of it all on my phone to this day. It was very good. However, we had to fork out hundreds of pounds for the AICO system because the Nest is not compliant with Scottish legislation as it uses wifi and the alarms are not radio-linked.

We still don’t know why the AICO alarms went off. I have tried contacting the company to see if they know why but so far it remains a mystery. They assure me their smoke alarms cannot detect gas. There’s also no record in the alarm data I downloaded that it ever went off which doesn’t make sense. All four of us heard it. The theories are:

1) It’s connected to an alarm in someone else’s house and that triggered our system
2) It did detect gas
3) There’s a ghost in the house

Anything else?

3 thoughts on “A gas leak”

  1. I can’t think of any reasoning that covers all these occurrences. I’m glad you called the gas company though, and that they were thorough in their investigations. It sounds like quite a scary situation.

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