Urban Adulting* for Suburbanites: Gas Stoves

#19 - Cooking with Gas by Taylor Bennett (2012) CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr. https://flic.kr/p/bfD2n4
#19 – Cooking with Gas by Taylor Bennett (2012) CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr. https://flic.kr/p/bfD2n4

*With kudos to Kelly Williams Brown for popularizing the term “adulting”, meaning “acting like an adult even if you don’t feel like one.”

Slowly settling into life here in here the Motor City. Dwelling in an older home (early 20th century) has certain unexpected challenges. While I grew up with an electric range, I have used kitchens with newer gas stoves before. In contrast, our particular retro stove model has standing pilot lights, which I was surprised to learn, are always on, even if the stove is turned off. This means that parts of the range are often warm-to-hot to the touch (which can result in some singed fingers) and confusion over whether the stove knobs are attached correctly. (“I’m pretty sure the stove has been off for 6 hours. Why is it still hot?”)

This story of the stove begins the week after moving in. Upon returning home after being gone for several hours, my roommate and I were alarmed to notice the smell of gas and that our stove top was hot. We left a message for the landlord and contacted the gas company, who promptly sent someone to check out our complaint. We also opened all windows to ventilate the smell.

This video was very helpful in determining that the pilot lights in the stove and oven were still lit. Pilots continuously burn up gas, preventing any from leaking out. When a pilot goes out (and has to be relit) it can become an opportunity for gas to escape.

The gentleman from the gas company arrived with a gas detector with a wand that looked like something out of “GhostBusters.” He checked around the stove and the water heater with the detector, and then painted the pipes with soap suds to determine if any gas was leaking out. (Gas leaking out would create additional bubbles in the soap film). He even checked out gas meter and changed out the batteries in his gas detector, but didn’t find any leaking gas.

We agreed to check the next day (after closing up all the windows again) coming back to the house after several hours for any noticeable gas smell. The man from the gas company explained that mercaptan (CH3SH) was added to the normally odorless gas to alert people to the presence of a leak.

Mercaptan is a naturally occurring substance in humans, plants and animals. It can be produced by bacteria and contributes to “bad breath” odor. We didn’t notice any gas smell the next day upon returning home. But we did find some old kale decomposing in our crisper drawer in the refrigerator…


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