Carbon Monoxide: Home Safety Tips for Detection and Prevention
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Often known as the ‘silent killer’, carbon monoxide, or CO, is extremely dangerous.
Colourless, tasteless, and odourless, this gas is produced when there isn’t enough oxygen available to burn the fuel completely. Carbon monoxide can be generated by faulty and poorly maintained wood, gas, and coal fires.
Carbon monoxide reduces the body’s ability to carry oxygen to vital organs. The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include nausea, weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, and muscle pain – very similar to flu.
If exposed for too long or at too high levels, carbon monoxide can even be fatal. It’s estimated that there are over 100 deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning a year across England and Wales.
The good news is that carbon monoxide poisoning is entirely preventable, and there are many things you can do to stay safe. We’ve put together some carbon monoxide home safety tips to protect you, your family, and your friends.
1. Install a carbon monoxide alarm
A carbon monoxide alarm sounds if gas levels rise above a dangerous level; however, only one in ten homes have at least one alarm.
If your carbon monoxide alarm is going off, turn off your appliance, open the windows, and leave the house.
We recommend placing a carbon monoxide alarm in every room with a fuel-burning appliance. It’s also a good idea to have alarms near bedrooms, so you can hear them even if you’re sleeping.
Place the alarm between one to three metres away from the appliance, at eye level, and avoid placing the alarm near a door or window, as draughts can affect the reading.
Like smoke alarms, you should test carbon monoxide alarms once a week and replace the batteries every year.
Find out more about carbon monoxide safety levels.
2. Service and clean your appliances
Carbon monoxide is generated when appliances are faulty and there is insufficient ventilation to burn the fuel completely. Regularly servicing and cleaning your boiler, heater, or fireplace ensures your appliance is always in optimal condition and stays safe.
If you have a wood or coal-burning fireplace, regularly clean your flue or chimney to ensure good ventilation and reduce the risk of blockages.
3. Look for the warning signs
Our third carbon monoxide home safety tip is to be mindful of the signs of carbon monoxide. Look out for:
- Soot stains on or near appliances
- Boiler pilot light flames burning orange rather than blue, or pilot lights that frequently blow out
- Excessive condensation on windows and glass
- Fumes or smoke in the room
- A strange smell when you turn on your appliances
Get into the habit of checking gas appliances for these tell-tale signs. If you spot any of these issues, get a specialist to come and take a look at your appliance as soon as possible.
4. Register your appliance
It’s essential to get into the habit of registering your appliances when you buy them. Not only do you usually get a free extended warranty, but the manufacturer can quickly get in touch with you if they need to issue a product recall.
The Register My Appliance website provides an easy way to register, no matter the age of your appliance. Just enter the brand, model name, and serial number, and you can register online for free.
5. Make sure there is enough air in circulation
Carbon monoxide is generated when there isn’t enough ventilation. While a lovely warm room might sound wonderful, especially in winter, air must be allowed to flow in and out.
Avoid blocking air vents, and make sure extractor fans are turned on in kitchens and bathrooms. Even leaving doors open can help air flow through a room.
6. Look out for your neighbours
Carbon monoxide can get into properties through brick walls, as well as shared flues and chimneys. This means it’s crucial for not just you, but your neighbours, to be aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide.
Keep an eye out for your neighbours and help them stay safe, especially if they are elderly, pregnant, or have young children.
7. Choose an alternative fireplace
Not all fireplaces generate carbon monoxide.
Bioethanol fireplaces are clean burning, meaning the only emissions they produce are heat, water vapour, and a small amount of carbon dioxide. Even then, they only create the same amount of carbon dioxide as two burning candles.
8. Some quick carbon monoxide home safety tips
Here are some additional tips to help keep your home safe from the dangers of carbon monoxide:
- Never leave your car running in an enclosed garage space
- Open the flue before lighting a fire and close it when the fire has been completely extinguished
- Don’t use gas stoves or ovens for heating your home
- Don’t use appliances intended for outdoor use only (e.g. barbeques) inside
- Tell your family members about the dangers of carbon monoxide and the symptoms to look out for
Carbon monoxide: what to do in an emergency
We hope you found these carbon monoxide home safety tips helpful.
If you think a fireplace or a boiler in your home is leaking carbon monoxide:
- Turn off the appliance
- Open the windows to ventilate
- Go outside immediately
- Call 999 and ask for the fire service, or if a gas appliance is at fault, call the National Gas Emergency Service on 0800 111 999.
If you think you have carbon monoxide poisoning, call 999 or go to your nearest A&E.