Maintenance, the Art of Prevention by Matthew W. Wilber, CGE, CFEI

The gas grill, it’s a very simple and popular appliance. A 2017 survey conducted by the Hearth Patio and Barbeque Association[1] indicates that 64% of the respondents owned a gas grill. Typically, a gas grill burns natural gas or propane, but butane grills are also available.

Turn it on and gas is delivered to the burner, you light the burner and the inside of the grill heats up. When your food is cooked you turn it off until next time. Many gas grill owners will follow that process until something doesn’t work.

Each new appliance, which has been certified to the appropriate safety and performance standard, comes with operation and maintenance instructions. Regardless of the simplicity of operation, these instructions should always be read and followed carefully. Fires and burns caused by improper operation and poor, or lack of, maintenance are not uncommon with gas grills.

 gas grill burner

gas grill burner

In one case, a homeowner was unsuccessfully attempting to light his grill and heard a “popping noise”. He smelled gas but there was no visible burner flame. After a few more tries for ignition, he noticed a hissing noise coming from the grill cabinet. Upon opening the cabinet, he saw a flame burning at the hose coming from the propane cylinder connection. Fortunately, he was able to shut off the cylinder, avoiding further damage.

 Burner venturi

Burner venturi

The investigation revealed a spider web in the burner venturi which caused the gas to escape from the primary air openings rather than through the burner ports. This ultimately ignited at the base of the grill and damaged the gas supply hose causing it to leak and the leak at the hose ignited. If left unnoticed, this could have led to a catastrophic fire and/or injury. It may seem unlikely, but the truth is this spider web in the burner could have led to serious burn injuries to the person trying to control the situation. If left unnoticed the fire burning in the cabinet at the base of the grill could easily have resulted in the deck or the home catching fire. Homes have been completely destroyed by grill fires and in most cases this was a result of improper use or lack of maintenance.

 spider in web in burner venturi

spider in web in burner venturi

Many types of insects are attracted to gas leaks and the presence of insects attracts spiders which can build web structures capable of impeding or blocking the flow of gas. All of this could have been prevented by performing the maintenance recommended in the user’s manual provided by the manufacturer which addressed the issue of insects and proper cleaning of the burner assembly.

The lesson: even if it seems unnecessary, read the manual for any appliance, tool or equipment!

If you have a failure involving a gas appliance, please contact me.

[1] https://www.statista.com/statistics/271755/us-grill-ownership-by-type-of-grill/