Carbon Monoxide in the Home
Carbon monoxide consists of one-part oxygen and one part carbon and is produced by partially burned carbon fuel sources like natural gas, coal, petrol, wood, and propane. While harmless in an outdoor or well-ventilated area, carbon monoxide can be lethal in enclosed spaces. Very difficult to detect because of its lack of odour, excess carbon monoxide starves the body of oxygen by combining with hemoglobin in the lungs. This causes headaches, dizziness, and nausea, before ultimately becoming fatal.
The dangers of a carbon monoxide leak in the home can be a scary thought, especially as it can’t be detected by smell, taste, or sight. Carbon monoxide (CO) is an incredibly poisonous gas that poses a serious threat to health if exposure occurs and each year there are around 40 deaths in England and Wales from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide is produced by the incomplete burning of fossil fuels. There are several ways that this can occur, including poorly fitted or maintained gas appliances and blocked chimneys or vents. It can also be produced by BBQs, wood burners, and generators.
There are several gas appliances that can cause carbon monoxide leaks, these include:
- Free-standing gas heaters
- Gas cookers
- Gas fires
- Boilers and water heaters
Carbon monoxide can also be produced as a by-product of burning solid fuels like coal, wood, or petrol. This means that charcoal fires, running cars and cigarette smoke are all common producers of carbon monoxide. Here are some examples of carbon monoxide in everyday life:
- Running a car in a closed garage can create deadly levels of carbon monoxide within ten minutes
- A lit fire with a blocked flue or chimney will prevent carbon monoxide from escaping and produce it into your home.
- Using a BBQ in a confined space without proper ventilation or bringing it inside a caravan or tent after use can result in dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.
What should I do if I suspect carbon monoxide?
- Open all doors and windows
- Move outside into fresh air
- Call the Gas Emergency Service on 0800 111 999
What are the signs to look for?
If you spot any of the signs below, it doesn’t definitely mean that there is a release of carbon monoxide, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Gas flame appears 'floppy' and burns orange or yellow rather than mostly blue
- The pilot light frequently blows out
- There is soot or yellow-brown staining on or around an appliance
- You see or smell smoke or have excessive condensation in the room where you have a gas appliance
If you suspect a leak, call the National Gas Emergency number on 0800 111 999
Minimising the risk of carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide alarms work like smoke or fire alarms, going off as soon as they detect surplus carbon monoxide in the air.
In order to minimise the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning, you should take the following steps:
- Ensure that all gas appliances are properly installed and regularly serviced on an annual basis. This work should be carried out by a Gas Safe Registered engineer
- Ensure that all chimneys and flues are cleaned tp prevent blockages, this should also be done annually
- Fitting carbon monoxide alarms within your home and testing them regularly. Alarms should be fitted around three metres from an appliance at door height. This would ideally be in each room where there’s a gas appliance fitted
- Carbon monoxide alarms can be purchased from DIY stores for around £15
Where to place a carbon monoxide detector
You should ideally have a carbon monoxide detector on each floor of your house and definitely in the same room as any potential source of the gas, such as a boiler, stove or oven. The detector should be placed around head height on a wall or shelf, although some are also built into ceiling-mounted multipurpose fire alarms. You should check your smoke detector to see whether it is already also fitted with a carbon monoxide detector.
Private landlords are bound by law to fit carbon monoxide alarms where necessary, and failure to do so can lead to a fine of up to £5,000.
What to do if your carbon monoxide alarm goes off
The first thing to do if your carbon monoxide alarm goes off is to try to improve the ventilation of the room, by opening all windows and doors to try and rid your house of the gas. Carbon monoxide is most dangerous and concentrated in a sealed-off environment, so you need to ventilate your home to give the gas somewhere to escape. Do not switch on lights or use matches or a lighter.
You should turn off any fuel-burning appliances like fires, boilers, cookers, or ovens as quickly and safely as possible, and immediately exit the building. You should then remain outside, regardless of whether you are suffering from any of the aforementioned symptoms.
Remember, carbon monoxide poisoning is deadly, so if you’re worried you may have been exposed or there could be a leak in your property, you should act as quickly as possible. You can call the National Gas Emergency number on 0800 111 999.
You can also get further information from Cadent Gas's website on what to do if you suspect a carbon monoxide leak. (Opens in new window)
The Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) has just published a new handout (Opens in a new window) as an essential guide to all the new requirements and background information. It covers what is required and how the checks will be carried out by BSS Examiners and how the alarms will help keep crew members safe, including:
- CO alarm makers guidance about where to place a CO alarm to achieve the best protection,
- What type of CO alarm to buy,
- What to do if a CO alarm goes off,
- What to do if carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected.
Many people don’t realise the dangers of Carbon Monoxide poisoning, or CO as it’s known. It only takes one faulty appliance, blocked flue, or a build-up of engine exhaust gas to potentially harm you and your family.
"Each year boaters die or are made seriously ill from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning - Boats are built to keep water out, but this also makes them good containers for gases and fumes."
When carbon-based, appliances and engine fuels, such as gas, LPG, coal, wood, paraffin, oil, petrol, and diesel don't burn completely, CO is produced.
CO build-up in the cabin can occur with one or a mix of these factors:
- with faulty, badly maintained, or misused appliances
- exhaust fumes from a boat's engine or generator
- escaped flue gases from solid fuel stoves
- short supply of air - fuels need the right amount of oxygen to burn safely
So how safe from CO do you think you are?
Happy boating is boating safe from CO, so we have a short quiz for you and your crew to take to decide how safe are you from CO?
Will you be surprised at some of the answers or are you managing this risk like the best of boaters?
Please take 5 minutes out of your day to test your knowledge and how you behave to discover how safe are you and your crew from CO? (.pdf, Opens in a new window)
10 tips to keep you and your crew alive!
- All the crew should know the symptoms of CO poisoning and how to react if it is suspected
- Install fuel-burning appliances properly, in line with makers directions
- Follow servicing guidelines; maintenance should be routine and competent - Don't allow bodged repairs, adjustments, and adaptations
- Always use appliances as per the instructions and never use cookers for space heating
- Don’t block ventilation – appliance fuels like gas, coal, wood, oil, paraffin, etc. need sufficient air to burn safely
- Don’t bring charcoal BBQs on board, or have them near a cabin during or after use - only stone-cold charcoal is safe
- Keep engine fumes out of the cabin space, never use a portable generator in or near a cabin
- Learn about the danger signs, spot potential hazards before CO occurs
- Deal with problems immediately, never use equipment you suspect has problems
- Install at least one certified CO alarm (BS EN 50291-2), test it routinely, and never remove the batteries