Carbon Monoxide (CO) cannot be tasted and has no smell giving no opportunity to detect this dangerous gas. The gas is a by product of combustion with insufficient oxygen supply such as can happen in a poorly ventilated boiler. The standard flue gases from a boiler, or other gas appliance such as a gas fire, contain Carbon Dioxide, this is displaced by Carbon Monoxide when the oxygen levels are reduced. Building regulations prescribing ventilation requirements and the widespread availability gas appliance servicing services has reduced the incidence of Carbon Monoxide poisoning although there are still 30 deaths per year.

How dangerous is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Carbon monoxide kills so do not take any risks if you suspect you may be suffering from inhalation of the gas. It is better to act quickly if you spot any symptoms as prevarication could lead to a death. Take action to protect yourself and your family quickly. Any member of the family can be affected by carbon monoxide regardless of their age. Pets, large and small, are also potential victims.

What should I look for as early signs of poisoning from carbon monoxide?

Carbon Monoxide absorption can result in the following symptoms: –
* frequent headaches
* balance problems
* loss of energy
* billiousness

A CORGI certified gas engineer should be brought in to inspect your gas appliances if you notice these symptoms in your family. Whilst waiting for the engineer to arrive you should ensure that you have opened the windows and everyone has left the house.

How do I protect my family from Carbon Monoxide and potential poisoning?

Bad ventilation resulting in lack of oxygen leads to the production of poisonous carbon monoxide. Assuming that a ventilation audit of your proposed installation was completed before your boiler was fitted the best defence to this is the regular and expert servicing of any gas appliances that you have including your boiler. A CORGI-registered engineer should be employed to service your gas appliances. Carbon monoxide detectors, carrying a British Standard kite mark, are an important addition to a plan to protect your home against possible poisoning by CO gas. Air ventilation bricks and panels should be kept clear and checked throughout the year to make sure that the planned air flow is maintained to your gas appliances. Garden plants can also be a danger to you as growth throughout the summer can block air vents to a boiler which may not be in operation until the cold weather returns. Birds can often build nests in chimneys and block the airflow to gas appliances without you knowing, a visual inspection from the ground should be included within your ventilation action plan. Ensure that you are aware of the different sounds from your smoke alarms and your CO alarms. If the carbon monoxide detector alarm sounds be certain that it was your CO detector and not your smoke detector.

What will I see if I have a carbon monoxide issue in my home?

Gas combustion in an oxygen poor atmosphere can produce visible deposits which can discolour gas appliances and the walls surrounding them. Another way to check for gas burning problems is to inspect pilot lights and see whether they are burning with a yellow or other colour flame rather than the blue light of a well maintained system. Treat the pilot light like a traffic light, if it turns yellow this is a warning and you should arrange for the boiler to be serviced as quickly as you can.

Are you able to purchase carbon monoxide detectors?

Carbon monoxide detectors can be effective in preventing incidences of carbon monoxide poisoning. You know have a choice of detector types and most of these are available in the shops or online. The gradual accumulation of carbon monoxide gas over time will lead to the detector being set off. Smoke detectors have become a standard feature in homes and the technology is reliable, CO detectors are not yet as reliable but the technology is making rapid strides. You should ensure you have regular servicing of your appliances and treat your carbon monoxide detector as a secondary, backup measure. It is not your first line of defence.

What are the features of a good detector?

Good quality carbon monoxide detectors have a loud alarm and are certified to British Standards. Such alarms have long lasting batteries (5 years) and the alarm is triggered when abnormal levels of carbon monoxide are detected enabling people to escape the area. Cheaper CO detectors have a coloured spot that changes colour when carbon monoxide levels rise and these should not be used in preference to a battery alarm. With a colour change detector you may forget to replace the detector when it has expired after 6 months creating a risk. Also the lack of an alarm means that you may not be made aware of a problem in the critical early hours. Chemical detectors lack of loud alarms prevents them from waking your family at night time if CO levels rise and this could be a major safety issue. In addition to do it yourself stores carrying these detectors you may be able to purchase an approved model from your utility company.

Install a carbon monoxide detector to protect your home

Early advice of rising levels of CO can give people enough time to leave a building before the symptoms of CO poisoning occur. The installation of CO detectors gives this warning. The levels at which carbon monoxide detectors are triggered are measured against the level of gas that would start to harm a healthy adult. As such you need to act quickly when children could have been exposed to the emissions as they can be harmed by lower levels of the gas. Smoke detectors are installed near the ceiling as smoke rises, this is not true of carbon monoxide and hence these detectors can be installed lower on the wall. Carbon Monoxide detectors should be installed where the alarm can be heard from your bedroom, you need to be woken quickly should the alarm be triggered.

The operation of detectors must be checked frequently

As with all safety equipment a detector should be tested throughout the year to make sure that it is working effectively. Detectors should come with instructions detailing the steps to take to check the effective functioning of the detector. Test CO alarms at least once a month and replace them according to the service instructions if found to be defective. The ‘test’ feature on many detectors checks the functioning of the alarm and not the status of the detector. You should note when the detector needs to be replaced, some have an operating life of only 48 months. Some models of detector have lifespans up to 5 years some are mains powered, others are battery powered. You should shop around to select the model that meets your needs. To save space there are combination smoke and CO detectors sold, you should check the manufacturer installation instructions for how to install these.

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