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The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide (CO)

Carbon Monoxide is completely odourless and colourless, making it invisible and very difficult to detect without specialist equipment. As a result Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning presents a real and very dangerous risk in any home with a gas fire or boiler.

It can be produced by faulty appliances, if the flue is blocked or you are lacking essential ventilation and can build up in your home with deadly consequences. If the toxic fumes are breathed in, they can kill within minutes. It is especially dangerous because of the nature of the symptoms, which include wooziness, nausea and disorientation, as they clear quickly once you leave the area and can easily go unnoticed or be attributed to something else.

Black-Spot’ Indicator Patches

You can buy carbon monoxide detector indicators to place above gas fires and appliances to alert you to the presence of carbon monoxide. They have a small light coloured circle that simply changes colour if exposed to CO. The problem with these patches is that the colour change is subtle and the patch is quite small, so it can easily be overlooked – especially if you aren’t in the same room as your faulty boiler or fire and they will not wake you and warn you should CO reach a dangerous level in your home over night.

Carbon Monoxide Alarms

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) do not approve ‘dark spot’ indicator patches and instead recommend the installation of audible carbon monoxide detector alarms. These alarms work similarly to smoke alarms and can detect differing levels of C0 in the environment and will emit a loud noise to alert you should it reach a worrying or dangerous level. This is particularly useful as you are most at risk from CO poisoning as you sleep as you will not notice the symptoms.

An audible CO detector could save your life and the lives of your family, but only if you chose a quality one that complies with British Standard EN 50291, and is Kite-marked to prove it is approved for home use. You should also have it installed, regularly inspected and serviced in line with the manufacturers’ instructions, to ensure it is also functioning properly and won’t let you down when you need it most.

Proper Installation and Maintenance

Although CO alarms and patches are essential for your safety, you should never rely on them as an alternative to certified installation, maintenance and servicing of your gas appliances.

You should always choose HETAS and Gas Safe registered installers who will have the expertise to check you have adequate ventilation and that you have the correct flue for your type of appliance.

Blocked Chimneys

Although the biggest threat of carbon monoxide poisoning is with faulty gas appliances, that is not the only cause. Open fires and solid fuel stoves can pose just as much risk because if the chimney or flue becomes blocked it will limit the ventilation and allow carbon monoxide fumes to escape into your home, with deadly consequences.

Blocked chimneys can be caused by a number of things, from badly fitted pots that cause pressure to build up and force the toxic fumes back down the chimney and into your room, to birds’ nests, cracked or damaged flues and a build-up of spot and debris.

The best way to avoid the harmful effects of CO poisoning from a blocked chimney is to ensure regular and professional chimney sweeping.


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