Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is serious business — what should you look out for, and how can you prevent it from happening?
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Carbon monoxide poisoning has a reputation as one of the major dangers facing households. 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. As you will see below, you may even be able to get a free carbon monoxide detector from your gas company.
We 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.
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 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 some clear symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. The six main symptoms as identified by the Gas Safe Register are:
- Loss of consciousness
While these symptoms could occur 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.
Go to your nearest doctor or hospital, and if you are in immediate danger you can easily call the Gas Emergency Helpline on 0800 111 999 to report these signs of carbon monoxide poisoning.
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 CO 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.
And don't worry about getting confused, there is no such thing as a carbon dioxide detector.
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 meter from any appliances.
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 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 crisp and blue, not yellow or orange
- Watch out for soot or yellow-brown staining around or on appliances
- Your boiler pilot lights shouldn't be inconsistent or frequently blow out
- Look out for more condensation than usual inside 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 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 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.
For more information on gas safety, have a look at our gas safety tips.
Energy efficient heating
While it's vital to make sure your boiler is safe, it's also important to make the most out of your heating.
You can improve the effectiveness of your heating by making sure you use a thermostat and a timer first and foremost. Setting up your thermostat correctly isn't the end of the story though; you also need to make it's set up properly.
Ensure your heating comes on at the right time, and don't forget to change the timings if your schedule is changing.