Carbon monoxide in the home - safety tips

Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is serious business — what should you look out for, and how can you prevent it from happening?

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.

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:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Breathlessness
  • Nausea
  • Collapse
  • 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.

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