Despite not being able to see it, smell it or taste it, carbon monoxide is a killer of around 50 people in the UK every year. It can build up in the home over time causing problems such as nausea, tiredness and flu like symptoms which you may not immediately associate with the possibility of gas poisoning. At high levels the gas can cause unconsciousness and even death.
Carbon monoxide is the product of the burning of fossil fuels such as gas, oil, coal and wood. Clearly these are the fuels we all use in our homes to produce heat or to cook. When an appliance is poorly maintained or incorrectly installed it may not burn the fuel completely allowing the resulting gas to build up in an unventilated room.
Unfortunately due to our well-insulated and double glazed homes, there are more chances than ever for carbon monoxide to build up to dangerous levels and highlights the need to keep our appliances well maintained and to replace them when required. It is also worth pointing out that open fires can also cause carbon monoxide build up, so proper chimney venting is essential.
Carbon monoxide poisoning will first be felt as a headache after 2 hours at 400 parts per million, followed by dizziness, nausea and convulsions once the levels reach 800 parts per million. After 2 hours at this level the victim will become incapacitated.
The gas enters the bloodstream via the lungs replacing oxygen which places strain on the function of the heart and brain. The affects on children will be even quicker and more serious and they may show symptoms before others in the household.
People who suffer from any of the above symptoms, but have no high temperature may be suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. If the symptoms disappear when outside of the house then this is an even more obvious sign.
As well as ensuring all appliances are fitted by approved installers and properly serviced and maintained, it is wise to protect your family and yourself from a possible carbon monoxide leak by installing a carbon monoxide detector in addition to your smoke alarm. They are available from all DIY stores and may literally make the difference between life and death.
Detectors which carry the official kite mark BS7860 will conform to British standards and should be the only type installed. An alarm should be tested at least once each month and the batteries replace yearly.
If your alarm goes off it is important you act quickly. Most importantly take it seriously. The fact you cannot smell anything, or you feel fine does not mean that the gas does not exist in your home.
Everyone in the house should be evacuated and doors should be left open to allow the gas to escape. The fire service should be notified from outside the home and if anyone is feeling ill an ambulance should be called.
Obviously the source of the gas should be investigated and an expert should be called in to replace or repair the affected appliance.
Just a simple thing like installing a detector can help to save your family and is as important as a smoke detector.