Carbon Monoxide: The Silent Killer

By PaulS | Blog

Carbon Monoxide has been in the news recently as “the silent killer” but what exactly is it and what can you do for you and your family?


What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, poisonous gas produced when burning fossil fuels such as gas, oil, wood and coal.

Normally most of the CO is burnt off but if the fuel does not burn properly excess CO is produced.

CO has no smell or taste and cannot be seen but it is poisonous. When it enters the body (through breathing it in), it prevents your blood from getting oxygen to your cells tissues and organs.


Harm to Health

Even if you are exposed to low levels of CO that do not kill, it can still cause serious harm to health, when breathed in over a long period of time.

Long-term effects of exposure to carbon monoxide include paralysis and brain damage. Even short-term inhalation can cause:


  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • breathlessness
  • collapse
  • loss of consciousness


Carbon monoxide symptoms are very similar to flu, food poisoning, viral infections and simply tiredness, which is why it is common for many people to mistake CO poisoning for something else.


How can I protect myself and my family?

Gas Safe and the Health and Safety Executive both advise 2 steps you should take to reduce the risk of CO poisoning:

1 . Making sure that your fossil fuel burning appliances (and flues) are regularly checked by competent engineers.

These include:

– Your heating boiler, no matter whether it burns gas, oil, wood or coal

– Any stoves or additional fires or heating appliances that burn fossil fuels

– That your chimney is clear and regularly swept.

2 . And secondly that you have a CO alarm fitted near the appliance and/or flue.

In Northern Ireland fitting a CO alarm is mandatory. In England and Wales, the 2010 Building Regulations Part J states carbon monoxide alarms need only be fitted in the same room as new or replacement solid-fuel heating appliances.


What is a CO Alarm?

A CO alarm is similar to a smoke alarm except that it alerts you to the presence of carbon monoxide (a smoke alarm will alert you to smoke and NOT carbon monoxide).

They are small battery operated units, normally with a guarantee of 5 years, which are mounted or sit near a gas appliance.

Unlike the cheaper “black spot” cards, they sound an alarm when they detect carbon monoxide and only need to be periodically checked to make sure the battery is still operating, just like a smoke alarm.

However, a carbon monoxide alarm is no substitute for correct installation and servicing of your gas appliances. So always make sure you get your gas appliances checked by a Gas Safe registered engineer every year.


What alarm should I fit?

Gas Safe Register recommends the use of audible carbon monoxide alarms. It should be marked to EN 50291 and also have the British Standards’ Kitemark or another European approval organisation’s mark on it.

We supply and fit the leading brands such as Honeywell or Fire Angel which are both rated at and above the relevant standards.


Where should the CO alarm be fitted?

The recommendation is to fit an alarm in each room with a gas appliance.

Always follow the alarm manufacturer’s instructions on siting, testing and replacing the alarm.

It is important to choose an alarm that will wake you up if you’re asleep, or you may not be aware of early CO symptoms until it is too late.


Is there anything I can do now to check for potential problems?

There are signs that you can look out for which indicate incomplete combustion is occurring and may result in the production of CO:

  • yellow or orange rather than blue flames (except fuel effect fires or flueless appliances which display this colour flame)
  • soot or yellow/brown staining around or on appliances
  • pilot lights that frequently blow out
  • increased condensation inside windows.


Other signs that could point to carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Your symptoms only occur when you are at home
  • Your symptoms disappear or get better when you leave home and come back when you return
  • Others in your household are experiencing symptoms (including your pets) and they appear at a similar time.


What should I do if I experience any symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

Get fresh air immediately. Open doors and windows, turn off gas appliances and leave the house.

See your doctor immediately or go to hospital – let them know that you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning. They can do a blood or breath test to check.

If you think there is an immediate danger, call the Gas Emergency Helpline on 0800 111 999.

Get a Gas Safe registered engineer to inspect your gas appliances and flues to see if there is a dangerous problem.


Don’t assume your gas appliances are safe

Remember, get them checked annually by a Gas Safe registered engineer and have a carbon monoxide alarm installed.

If you would like one of our Gas Safe registered engineers to check your boiler or you would like a carbon monoxide alarm fitted, please contact us on 020 8462 8822 or click here to request a callback.