But what is it?
Carbon-monoxide is an odourless, tasteless, invisible gas which can be deadly to people and animals. It can be produced by gas appliances which have been incorrectly fitted or have become faulty through wear and tear and/or lack of maintenance. It can be also be produced by solid fuel heaters such as wood burners.
Normally when gas or solid fuel is burnt it produces heat and two by products – water vapour and carbon dioxide. Chemical changes during the combustion process means that two oxygen atoms in the air combine with one carbon from the fuel producing carbon dioxide. Where there is insufficient oxygen, only one oxygen carbon atom is available to combine with one carbon atom resulting carbon monoxide.
While carbon dioxide is harmless to people, this is not the case for carbon-monoxide. When you breathe it in, the chemical mixes with your blood and stops oxygen from being carried around your body. As a result, tissues and organs die.
How do you recognise the symptoms?
As you can’t smell, see or taste it, the first time you may be aware of a problem is when you are suffering from the effects. Symptoms can be similar to a cold or flu such as headache, nausea and vomiting but with no increased temperature. In severe cases, a person can lose consciousness and die. This can happen over a long period or very quickly.
So can you do?
Get appliances serviced regularly
Prevention is far, far better than a cure. Get your appliances serviced regularly by a qualified person. For gas check the Gas Safe Register and only use a Gas Safe registered engineer. For solid fuel go to HETAS.
Make sure you have adequate ventilation
Boilers and wood burners need air. If you block air vents to prevent drafts this can stop your heating appliance from operating properly – even if it has been serviced.
Watch for tell-tale signs
If you see soot around appliances or an orange or yellowy gas flame when using a gas cooker, this is an indicator of incomplete combustion. Gas flames should be blue.
Get a carbon-monoxide detector
These start at around £12 but can cost up to £50. The cheaper ones have a limited life of around five years. Don’t forget to test it regularly as batteries will need replacing. Detectors are useful if you are in a situation, such as on holiday or staying in a rented property, where you are not responsible for the maintenance of appliances.
Watch for symptoms
If suffering unexplained illness, seek medical help – don’t wait as carbon-monoxide can’t be treated by just getting some fresh air. If you have repeated exposure to the gas, it can build up in your system over a period of time. The only way of removing it is through oxygen therapy in hospital.
Despite the seriousness of carbon-monoxide, it doesn’t have to be a problem. Measures can be taken to prevent it and monitor it. As a domestic gas and electrical business, we would always recommend that you get gas appliances serviced every year as it will save you money through more efficient heating and reduce the risk of breakdown. More importantly, it may also save your life or the life or a loved one. That is something you can’t put a price on.
For more information about hardwired smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, visit Aico www.aico.co.uk