When my mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer, her resulting weakness from her chemotherapy medicines didn’t stop her. She still wanted to continue cooking and caring for my father-in-law the way she had for years. The problem was that she couldn’t stand as long at their gas stove, so she would start cooking, then go sit down – leaving the burners on and the meal simmering.
To avoid problems, I researched gas stove safety for the elderly. To make gas stoves safe for the elderly, install stove alarms and gas detectors, as well as automatic fire extinguishers and shut off devices. Be sure range hoods vent to the outside and smoke alarms work properly.
Gas Stove Safety For The Elderly
Clearly, the first worry I had for my mom-in-law concerned fire safety.
Her chemo medications made her fatigued. Another side effect was muscle weakness, so her legs sometimes gave out on her with no warning. If that happened while she was cooking, she could fall and burn herself. There was also the fear that she might wobble and knock over a pot, either scalding herself or creating a puddle on the floor that she could slip in.
And what about the pots she left cooking on the stove when she sat down to rest if her legs were bothering her? She might be too weak to get back up to turn off the burner.
Usually my father-in-law was in the house and could take care of the stove, but if he was out while she cooked, something might burn and start a fire before he came back.
Another thing to worry about when an elderly person like my mother-in-law cooks on a gas range is catching their clothing on fire if they reach over a lit burner.
They shouldn’t wear long sleeves and should make sure long hair is pulled back into a pony tail or a bun. Also, it’s best to remove dangling jewelry, like bracelets, before cooking.
Aside from fires or getting burned, the next biggest concern with seniors using gas stoves and appliances is carbon monoxide (CO2) poisoning.
The elderly are likely have an impaired sense of smell and may not notice a gas leak. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, carbon monoxide poisoning sends more than 20,000 people to emergency rooms across the country annually.
“Infants, the elderly, people with chronic heart disease, anemia, or breathing problems are more likely to get sick from CO.”
~ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Safety Knobs For Gas Stoves
If your senior parent lives with you and has challenges with dementia or Alzheimer’s, you should consider installing safety knobs for your gas stove. These are actually covers that are marketed for parents who have small children, but they also work very well for an elderly person with cognitive issues.
Basically, gas stove safety knobs are covers that fit over the knobs on your stove. They prevent someone from turning on the burner and possibly causing a fire or a gas leak.
One reviewer said that these safety knobs solved the problem her in-laws had. They are elderly and would always lean against the stove top to use the microwave or to clean the stove. When they did, they unknowingly pressed against a stove knob and turned on a burner. There was no flame, so they couldn’t tell until the gas accumulated enough to make the house smell of gas!
The Clear Stove Knob Covers by Jool Baby (Amazon link) come in a 5-pack for about $13.00. They are transparent, so they go with any style of kitchen décor. The knob covers feature a universal design, which means they will fit on most any model of gas range. Additionally, they are heat resistant
Installation is super easy:
- Remove the stove knob from your gas range
- Open the safety cover
- Place the base of the safety cover over the post of the gas stove knob
- Replace the gas stove knob on the post
- Lock the safety cover
- When you want to use the burner, just open the hinged lid and the stove knob is easily accessible.
- No tools required for installation.
- The company offers an exclusive, lifetime money-back guarantee if you aren’t satisfied with the knobs.
- Transparent covers let you instantly see the position of the knob and whether they are turned on or off.
- They are a universal fit, which means they are big, so they may be loose on your stove knobs. Tip: get some double-sided tape to secure them to the stove. You can use a blow dryer to help get the tape off when you no longer need the safety knob covers.
Gas Stove Alarms
One of the best things you can get to make a gas stove safer for seniors is a stove alarm. These devices monitor for gas leaks and will sound an audible alert if one is detected.
Leaks can happen on their own, but also can result if the senior doesn’t turn the burner off all the way or if they bump the knob and turn the gas on slightly.
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly model or want a detector you can plug in and walk away from, the Nighthawk Plug-in Carbon Monoxide and Explosive Gas Alarm (link to Amazon) retails for about $65.
It plugs into any standard outlet and detects natural gas, propane gas, and carbon monoxide.
Automatic Fire Extinguishers
Automatic fire extinguishers deploy their chemicals without your help when there is a gas stove fire. An elderly parent won’t have to try to remember where they put it or try to figure out how to use it while a fire is raging and they are panicking.
I only found two types of automatic fire extinguishers for gas stoves:
- a chemical extinguisher in a can or
- an entire unit that mounts to the range hood.
The extinguisher-in-a-can is called Stovetop FireStop by Williams RDM. A 12-ounce can holds chemical powder. The can attaches magnetically to the underside of the range hood. If there is a fire on the stove, the can releases the powder. Two cans run about $45 on Amazon.
The problem is that although WilliamsRDM says it can be used for a gas stove, their instructions say that the Stovetop FireStop isn’t for use with a gas stove! This is because a high flame from the burners can trigger the extinguisher under normal cooking conditions. Plus, the powder will put out a fire in a pan, but the pan would likely block flames coming out from underneath it.
On the other end of the spectrum are automatic residential fire suppression systems with gas shut-offs like those made by Guardian. In 2018, the Guardian unit retailed for between $2,000 – $2,500. If you are handy, you can even install it yourself.
The system mounts to the range hood. If there is a stove-top fire, the system activates. It shuts off the gas while releasing a wet agent for 90 seconds once a pre-set temperature is reached.
An automatic fire extinguisher is best for an elderly person because they won’t have to do anything to put out the fire, but this type of system may not be practical. That said, traditional fire extinguishers can also be problematic. They are heavy and difficult to wield since the contents release under pressure.
If you want an easy-to-use alternative for putting out a stove fire, consider a fire extinguishing blanket . This will put out a pan fire (liquid or grease) and retails for about $20 on Amazon. All the senior has to do is pull down the tabs on the wrapper, open the blanket, and toss it onto the fire.
Automatic Shut-Off Devices For Gas Stoves
Automatic shut off devices for gas stoves will turn off a range after a few minutes of non-use.
iGuardStove has a gas stove device with a built in motion detector. It will shut off the gas after it hasn’t detected any movement for 5 minutes.
It also has an emergency shut off and will send warning notifications to your smartphone. Additionally, it has a secret lock that allows a caregiver to lock out the stove of someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s. It costs about $595 in 2018.
The upgraded version ($695 – $725 (2018) also offers gas leak detection, among other features.
NOTE: Automatic shut-off devices must be installed by a certified gas plumber.
Gas Range Safety Tips
The first thing to do is to avoid cooking while wearing loose clothing or jewelry that could dangle over the burner and catch on fire.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends these safety tips to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning from your gas stove:
- Have your gas appliances serviced annually by a qualified technician
- If you smell gas, have an expert investigate
- When you buy gas equipment, buy only equipment carrying the seal of a national testing agency, such as Underwriters’ Laboratories.
- Make sure your gas appliances are vented properly
- Never use a gas range or oven for heating the room or your home. Using a gas range or oven for heating can cause a buildup of CO inside your home.
What To Do If You Smell Gas
IF YOU SMELL GAS:
Natural gas leaks can set off an explosion. If your gas alarm goes off, leave the home immediately, then call your gas supplier or the fire department from your cell phone or a neighbor’s phone
- Do not try to light the stove or use any appliance
- Don’t turn on any lights
- Do not touch any light switches
- Don’t use a landline phone
IMPORTANT: Gas leaks can’t always be detected by smell, especially by the elderly whose sense of smell may be impaired.
It is highly recommended that you use a combustible gas leak/carbon monoxide detector that is approved by UL or CSA. You can find these at your nearby home supply store, like The Home Depot or Lowe’s.
Do gas stoves need to be vented? Most U. S. residential cook tops and gas ranges don’t need to be vented to the outside unless they are equipped with a grill. Venting requirements, however, vary depending on the area. Check with your local city permit office to be sure you meet their building codes.
Does a gas range need a hood? Generally, the building codes for most U.S. homes don’t require a stove or cook top to have a range hood, however it is best to check with your local building permit office to be sure you don’t need one. Even if one isn’t necessary, it is safer to have a range hood that vents to the outside.
Can you use an over the range microwave with a gas stove? Yes. General Electric’s website notes that only over-the-range microwaves can be mounted over a gas stove. This type specifically includes a vent. If your stove or cook top has a combined BTU rating over 60,000 BTUs (not including the oven or broiler BTUs), an over-the-range microwave should not be installed.