According to the Department of Health, carbon monoxide poisoning in the home causes approximately 50 deaths and up to 4,000 medical visits in the UK every year. Carbon monoxide is produced by faulty devices that burn fuel. This can include gas heaters, water heaters, stoves, fireplaces, wood stoves etc.
A carbon monoxide alarm or a CO alarm is a device that sounds an alert if it detects the presence of carbon monoxide (CO) gas, an odourless, tasteless and colourless gas. This can help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
Do you need a CO alarm?
If your house or apartment is powered entirely by electricity, you do not need a carbon monoxide alarm. However, if you have a fuel-burning appliance, such as a gas-powered boiler, heater, oven, stove or open fireplace, you should have at least one CO alarm.
We also stock CO alarms for your caravan, motorhome or boat so you can enjoy peace of mind wherever you are.
How do CO alarms work?
CO alarms will alert you if it detects dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in your home - usually before you start experiencing symptoms of CO poisoning.
If 50 or more parts per million (PPM) of CO are in the air, the carbon monoxide alarm will sound. The alarms are designed to sound more quickly when higher and more dangerous gas concentrations are detected. Low CO levels may take up to 8 hours for the alarm to go off. However, when higher levels of CO are detected, the alarm will sound in minutes.
Carbon monoxide has no taste, colour or smell, so it is impossible for humans to sense without a carbon monoxide detector. It is vital never to ignore an alarm. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be deadly.
Where should you install your CO alarms?
You must follow manufacturing guidelines when installing your CO alarm as it is the only thing that will detect carbon monoxide so you can protect yourself against the effects. Every room with a fuel-burning appliance should be fitted with a CO detector.
Contrary to popular belief that CO is heavier than air, alarms should be placed high. Ceiling-mounted alarms should be at least 30 cm from any wall, and wall-mounted alarms should be fitted at least 15 cm from the ceiling. They should be placed between 1-3 metres (measured horizontally) from any potential source of CO.
The British Standard EN 50292 standard also recommends that an CO alarms are not fitted:
- In enclosed spaces.
- Where they can be obstructed.
- Directly above a sink.
- Next to doors, windows, extractor fans, air vents or any similar ventilation openings.
- Where temperatures may drop below –5 ºC or rise above 40 ºC.
What are the signs of carbon monoxide?
The following signs may be able to help you detect a carbon monoxide leakage or build-up in your home before levels get dangerous:
- Sooty or yellow/brown staining on or around boilers, stoves, or fires.
- The pilot light is frequently blowing out.
- More condensation inside your windows than usual
- Yellow or orange flames, rather than blue flames (except fuel effect fires or flueless appliances which display this colour flame).
- Solid fuel fires are burning slower than usual.
If you suspect your appliance is faulty, turn it off immediately and do not turn it on until it has been serviced by a professional.
What should you do if your CO alarm goes off?
First of all, do not panic and do not ignore the alarm. Here are the steps you should take to keep you and your family safe:
- Open all doors and windows for fresh air.
- Turn off all fuel-burning appliances and leave the house, even if you don't feel ill.
- Don't switch on the lights, smoke or light a match.
- If you feel ill or show any symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, seek medical advice immediately.
- Call the free National Gas Emergency Service on 0800 111 999 to report the incident, or the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Gas Safety Advice Line on 0800 300 363
- Have all your gas appliances serviced before using them again.
What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?
As carbon monoxide enters your red blood cells, it quickly replaces the oxygen your body needs, making you seriously ill. Symptoms of carbon monoxide include:
- feeling sick or being sick
- feeling weak
- chest and muscle pain
- shortness of breath or breathing problems
How quickly the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning occur depends on the concentration of CO in the air and how long a person is exposed to it. Most people will begin to experience the initial symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning when carbon monoxide levels in the air reach 70 ppm (parts per million).
Pets and children are often the first to show signs of carbon monoxide poisoning due to smaller lung capacities. Small pets like birds can be particularly badly affected by a CO build-up.
If you think you have carbon monoxide poisoning seek medical advice immediately.
How to ensure your CO alarm is working properly
It is essential to test your detectors monthly to ensure they are working correctly. Follow the manufacturer's guidelines to carry out the test.
If the alarm does not test properly, replace the batteries with new ones and try again. If it fails, replace the alarm immediately.
How to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning
Installing CO detectors is only one step in preventing carbon monoxide poisoning. Other prevention tips include:
- Checking & changing batteries in your CO alarms every 6 months.
- Have a qualified gas engineer service all your gas appliances annually.
- Keep vents and flues free of debris and prevent blocks.
- Use gas-burning equipment in well-ventilated areas.
- Have a professional install all gas-burning appliances.
- Follow all manufacturer's instructions carefully.
- Don't use charcoal grills and portable camp stoves indoors.
Schedule regular maintenance
There is nothing more important than the well-being of yourself and your family. It is essential you call a properly qualified gas engineer to install all your fuel-burning appliances and inspect them at least once a year to ensure they are all still operating correctly. You can find an official list of gas engineers on the Gas Safe website.