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Carbon monoxide in the home: safety tips

Carbon monoxide in the home: safety tips

Carbon monoxide leaks can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, which can be fatal. You need to know how to prevent leaks and what to look out for in the event that leaks occur in your home - but how?

Carbon monoxide poisoning is one of the major dangers for any household. The good news is that by using a carbon monoxide detector, or carbon monoxide alarm, you don't have to worry about becoming a victim. You may even be able to get a free carbon monoxide detector from your gas company.

In this guide, we'll take a look at what carbon monoxide is, what the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning are, what you can do to detect it, and how you can prevent it from happening in the first place.

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What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is produced when there is not enough oxygen to bond with carbon-producing compounds — it is the incomplete burning of gas or LPG.

It occurs naturally but, in enclosed spaces like the home, it is usually the result of faulty gas appliances like heaters, boilers and fireplaces. It can also happen if chimneys, flues or vents are blocked.

Carbon monoxide can also be produced by burning oil, wood, petrol and coal.

If you would like to know more about making sure your home is 'gas safe', consult our list of gas safety tips.

What are the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning?

As a colourless and odourless gas, carbon monoxide is difficult to detect, but there are several clear symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. The six main symptoms as identified by the Gas Safe Register are:.

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Breathlessness
  • Nausea
  • Collapse
  • Loss of consciousness

While you could suffer any of these symptoms for a variety of reasons, a sure sign of carbon monoxide poisoning is where and how they occur.

If they occur within your home, with a similar effect on others in your home including pets, and disappear when you leave your home, you may be feeling the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning.

If you start to notice these symptoms you should open doors and windows, turn off any gas appliances and leave your home.

If you're feeling the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning, either call an ambulance or get yourself to hospital. If you suspect there is a carbon monoxide leak in your home, you can easily call the Gas Emergency Helpline on 0800 111 999 to report it.

Do you have a carbon monoxide detector?

Every home should be fitted with a carbon monoxide alarm. Carbon monoxide detectors can save your life, as they will sound before any carbon monoxide in your home reaches a dangerous level.

If the alarm on your carbon monoxide detector sounds, you should turn off any gas appliances, leave your home immediately and contact an engineer.

A carbon monoxide monitor is cheap to buy and easy to install, and you may even be able to get a free carbon monoxide detector from your gas supplier.

Looking just like a smoke alarm, these small devices cost between £15 and £35 from most reputable DIY stores.

Make sure you get an audible alarm rather than those that give visible warnings, or 'black spot' alarms, as you are most at risk from carbon monoxide poisoning while you sleep.

When you buy your alarm, make sure it has the British Standard EN50291 mark (also shown as BSEN 50291) and look for the British Standards Kitemark or the equivalent from other European standards associations.

When you install your alarm, make sure you put it in a central location like the hallway, place it at head height, and make sure it is at least a metre from any appliances.

Carbon monoxide detector

The golden rule, as with smoke alarms, is to test it regularly and replace the batteries at least once a year, or when the low battery alarm sounds.

How can you prevent carbon monoxide leaks in your home?

Prevention is always better than the cure, and the key to preventing carbon monoxide is regular maintenance of your appliances. First, check your appliances for the Gas Safe Register's telltale signs:

  • Your cooker flames should be strong and blue, not weak and yellow or orange
  • Watch out for soot or yellow-brown staining around or on appliances
  • Your boiler pilot light should be constant and not blow out
  • Look out for more condensation than usual on the inside of your windows

If you notice any of these signs on your boiler or oven, turn it off immediately and call in an accredited engineer.

You should also make sure your boiler and gas appliances are regularly maintained (at least on an annual basis) by a Gas Safe Registered engineer. The Gas Safe Register, previously known as CORGI, is the UK's gas safety body.

Just look out for the Gas Safe Register logo — a yellow triangle — on your engineer's registration card. If you're in any doubt, check on the Gas Safe Register website or call 0800 408 5500.

The same principle applies when you're having appliances installed in your home. Always make sure your installer is Gas Safe Registered-accredited, and if you're having any solid-fuel appliances installed look for HETAS accreditation.

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