Dangers of Carbon Monoxide in the home


In recognition of Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week (Monday 17th November), we examine the importance of being aware of one of the threat that carbon monoxide poses; whether you’re a landlord, tenant or homeowner, it’s all the same.

What exactly is Carbon Monoxide (CO)?

According to the Health and Safety Executive’s website, Carbon Monoxide (CO) is defined as “…a colourless, odourless, tasteless, poisonous gas produced by incomplete burning of carbon-based fuels, including gas, oil, wood and coal. Carbon-based fuels are safe to use. It is only when the fuel does not burn properly that excess CO is produced, which is poisonous.  When CO enters the body, it prevents the blood from bringing oxygen to cells, tissues, and organs.”

Signs to look out for

There are several signs of incomplete combustion, which leads to the creation of CO, which you should look out for:

  • Yellow/orange instead of blue flames
  • Soot or yellow/brownish staining around or on household appliances
  • Pilot lights regularly blowing out
  • Increase of condensation inside windows

The symptoms

It’s important to be aware of the early symptoms of Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning as they can be similar to common ailments like viral infections, flu, tiredness or food poisoning; symptoms include headaches or dizziness, breathlessness, loss of consciousness, nausea, tiredness, pains in your stomach and chest, and tiredness.

How to ensure safety

The first thing is to ensure that all your gas appliances are regularly maintained and tested annually. And since CO can be created by fossil fuels (wood and coal) it’s important to ensure that if your home has an open fireplace, the chimney is regularly swept by a HETAS registered engineer once a year (at the very least).

Also if you haven’t done already, install a carbon monoxide alarm in your property (they can be bought from as little as £15). This works similar to a smoke alarm and will alert you to the presence of CO.

Fitting a Carbon Monoxide alarm

Gas Safe Register recommends using audible Carbon Monoxide alarms. It should be marked to EN 50291 and also have the British Standards’ Kitemark, or another European-based approval organisation’s mark. Carbon Monoxide alarms have a battery life of up to 5 years.

Place an alarm in any room which has a gas appliance. Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions on fitting, testing and replacing the alarm.

A Carbon Monoxide alarm can be purchased from as little as £15 and can be found online. We recommend speaking to your Gas Safe registered engineer if you’re unsure which alarm to buy or how to install it.

What to do if you smell gas

In a gas emergency, act fast and take the following safety steps:

  • Step outside for fresh air immediately and open all doors and windows to ventilate the room
  • Turn off the appliance and don’t use it again until it’s been marked as safe to do so by a Gas Safe registered engineer
  • Switch off the gas at the mains
  • Call the National Gas Emergency number on 0800 111 999

If you begin to feel ill, visit to your GP or the hospital immediately and inform them of your symptoms.

Carbon monoxide can be a scary thing, but with the correct and necessary preparation you can ensure the safety of your property and most importantly the safety of you and your loved ones.