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All About: Carbon Monoxide

As the temperatures drop and fires are being lit, it is more important than ever that your carbon monoxide monitor is in good working order.

Figures are uncertain, but it is estimated that carbon monoxide takes at least 40 lives in the UK every year, while around 300 more people are lucky to escape death as the result of carbon monoxide poisoning. Here, we look at what carbon monoxide is, the risks, and how you can keep yourself, your family and guests safe.

Carbon monoxide is a colourless, tasteless and odourless gas, making it impossible to detect. It is produced when carbon-based fuels such as wood, gas, oil or coal, don’t burn completely. When we breathe in carbon monoxide, our body mistakes it for oxygen. Put simply: our blood cells have the job of carrying oxygen around our body, and delivering it to our organs, brain and tissue. When CO enters our bloodstream, it hitches a ride on the blood cells instead of oxygen and can cause suffocation.

Detecting Carbon Monoxide

Unlike most gases, it is not possible to detect carbon monoxide. However, there are some signs that can indicate that your boiler or solid fuel burner are releasing the gas, including:

  • Soot or brown staining on or around appliances.
  • The pilot light on your boiler blowing out frequently.
  • Yellow or orange flames, instead of blue flame.
  • More condensation than normal on the inside of the windows.

The best way to detect carbon monoxide is to install carbon monoxide alarms in your house, particularly in rooms where you have a boiler or oil or solid fuel burner (such as an AGA, Rayburn, wood burner, etc).

Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The best way to prevent CO poisoning is to make sure that all your appliances are serviced regularly: boilers serviced, flues checked. These should be checked at least annually, but if you use your appliances a lot, six-monthly checks could be a good idea; ask your gas plumber or chimney sweep for advice.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The symptoms of CO poisoning can be difficult to spot as they can be attributed to other sources. However, symptoms include: nausea and tiredness, headaches, and a sore throat or a dry cough.

What To Do if You Suspect CO Poisoning

If you suspect that CO is being released into your home, either because of symptoms or because your CO alarm is going off, go outside and call the National Gas Emergency Service on 0800111999. If anyone in the home is feeling unwell, contact your local GP; if anyone has lost consciousness, call 999.

Maintaining boilers, chimneys and other appliances can seem like a headache, but it can save lives. If you think that your boiler may need servicing, contact a local plumber; likewise, book your chimney sweep to ensure that your flues and chimneys are safe this winter.

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