The effects of carbon monoxide can be potentially fatal if not detected and dealt with promptly. Carbon monoxide remains one of the leading dangers in the home; however, it is a topic that many property owners admit they find somewhat vague.
According to the NHS, around 60 fatalities are caused every year due to carbon monoxide poisoning. While this may not, at first, appear to be a substantial figure, it is important to highlight that all of these carbon monoxide-related fatalities are accidental and could have been avoided. With this in mind, we have devised a full guide to not only what carbon monoxide is but the steps on what to do when carbon monoxide detector alarms.
A Guide To What To Do When Carbon Monoxide Detector Alarms
There are a plethora of appliances that are used in the home every day, any of these that use gas to fuel, run the potential risk of a carbon monoxide leak. Appliances such as your boiler, refrigerator, clothes dryer and water heaters all prove to be daily threats to those living in the property.
Carbon monoxide is extremely harmful to the human body and can be fatal if exposed in large quantities. It is one of the most deadly gases as it can be challenging to detect, it’s tasteless, odourless and colourless. This means that it is imperative to ensure that you have carbon monoxide detectors fitted in your home; these should be regarded as just as vital as a fire alarm.
What Is Carbon Monoxide?
As mentioned above, carbon monoxide is a tasteless, odourless and colourless gas that is toxic to any living being that uses haemoglobin as an oxygen carrier including both humans and animals. The molecular formula of carbon monoxide is CO, and it includes a combination of a single carbon atom that is bonded to a triple oxygen atom. Carbon monoxide is not a gas that is continuously in the atmosphere; it is only produced when there has been incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, which can be caused by anything from a boiler to open fire.
As a whole, there is often only a minuscule amount of carbon monoxide in the air which, while this isn’t ideal, is unlikely to cause a health hazard. However, if the gas was left to accumulate, this is when it will begin to become toxic. There are many different reasons as to why carbon monoxide may start to accumulate, including poor insulation, a broken appliance or fuel that cannot escape a room properly.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning & The Signs
If your body is exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide, it will begin to build up in your bloodstream, and the oxygen in your red blood cells will start to be replaced with carbon monoxide; consequently, causing carbon monoxide poisoning. The red blood cells, also known as haemoglobin, mixes with the carbon monoxide and produces carboxyhemoglobinn. Carboxyhemoglobin makes the body incapable of carrying any form of oxygen around the body which means that starting with the cells and tissue, each component of the body will begin to fail.
Depending on how much carbon monoxide you are exposed to, you will start to notice different symptoms. Mild carbon monoxide poisoning is often left undiagnosed as the most common symptoms are incredibly similar to those of the flu or food poisoning. The signs will begin with a gradual headache which will start to make you feel dizzy, nauseous and unable to breath properly. Unlike the flu or food poisoning, your temperature will not rise, and you will not have a fever – this is the easiest way to tell it it carbon monoxide poisoning.
The longer that you are exposed to the gas, the more severe your symptoms will become. Not only will nausea and dizziness worsen, but it will prove challenging to remain balanced, and your vision will blur. After a long period of time exposed to carbon monoxide, you will eventually fall unconscious. Those who fall unconscious due to extended exposure increase the likelihood of experiencing neurological problems in years to come. In some cases, individuals may be able to undergo hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which includes high-pressure oxygen being pumped into a chamber, clearing the body of carbon monoxide.
Fitting Carbon Monoxide Detectors
As carbon monoxide is the biggest silent killer, it has become vital to ensure that your home is fitted with detectors. Detectors are the only proven way to identify if there is a carbon monoxide leak in your home as unlike a fire, there are no visual signs.
There are a number of different carbon monoxide detectors now available on the market depending on what best suits your requirements; all of which are effective in keeping your home safe from harmful gases. Similarly to a fire alarm, both battery-operated and plug-in detectors are available. Battery-operated carbon monoxide alarms will be placed in a fixed position in your property, as opposed to a plug-in which can be moved between rooms if required. Some detectors utilise a gel that, when exposed to carbon monoxide, will change colour and send an alert to the alarm, which will then begin to sound. On the other hand, other detectors use chemical-covered electrodes which, when exposed, change current and start to signal. Safe Wise has put together a useful article on the best carbon monoxide detectors, along with their individual pros and cons.
When installing carbon monoxide detectors, it is your choice whether you opt for fixing the device to a wall or simply resting it on a shelf; both work equally as well. You must fit detectors in the same room that there is a source of carbon monoxide, for example, in the kitchen nearby to your boiler. It must be around 15cm away from the ceiling and more than one metre away from the source of the gas. For more information on installing and testing a carbon monoxide detector, head over to Which?
What To Do If The Alarm Goes Off
In the unlikely event that your carbon monoxide detector begins to alarm, it is imperative to ensure that all family members are aware of how to deal with the alert and the preventative steps to take.
The automatic reaction when hearing an alarm is to leave the property. While this is the right thing to do, there are a few tasks you must do beforehand to improve safety. As soon are you hear the detector begin to alarm, fully open all windows and doors in the property; try to let as much air into the home as possible. One of the main reasons as to why carbon monoxide begins to build is due to poor ventilation, which means that through allowing fresh air to filter through, the gas will slowly start to clear. Next, ensure that all fuel-burning appliances are switched off and then leave the house.
If, once you have left the property, you notice that you are feeling unwell and showing any of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning mentioned previously, seek medical attention immediately. Depending on your condition, you must either contact your doctor or call an ambulance on 999.
Regardless of how you are feeling, it is vital never to return inside until you have resolved the issue. Similarly to the police or paramedics, the National Gas Emergency Services is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to solve any carbon monoxide-related issues. You must call the National Gas Emergency Services on 0800 111 999 to seek advice on the safety of your property before re-entering.
How To Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
There are many different ways in which you can keep the risk of a carbon monoxide leak to a minimum, the first of which is to ensure that you book in your annual boiler service. During your yearly boiler service, a Gas Safe engineer will inspect the condition of each component to identify any growing, potentially fatal, problems. The casing of your boiler will be removed to allow the engineer to analyse aspects such as the gas pressure and flow, along with whether the system is burning the adequate balance of gas to water. RA Heating & Plumbing specialise in boiler maintenance in Milton Keynes; our team are more than happy to book a home inspection visit if you are particularly worried about the condition of your boiler.
As mentioned previously, a key cause of carbon monoxide poisoning is poor ventilation which, again, can be easily resolved. Not only is it essential to ensure that every few days you open all windows and doors to allow fresh air to filter through, but also clear out vents. Cleaning all dust, dirt and debris from vents in your property is a relatively straightforward task and can be achieved through DIY methods. Begin with using a screwdriver to unscrew the air duct covers and grills from the wall and put them in a safe place in the meantime. You can start to remove large pieces of dirt using a brush and if required, can clean away stubborn grime using warm soapy water. Once cleaned, aim to use a heavy duty vacuum to remove all dust from the ducts and crevices.
Last but not least, if you notice an unfamiliar change in any of your gas appliances, particularly your boiler and you’re not confident on the cause, call in a professional. As we say to many of our clients when we carry out boiler repairs in Milton Keynes, do not try to fix issues alone, especially if they pose a potential risk to not only your health but the safety of those living in the property.
Keep Your Home Safe From Carbon Monoxide!
Carbon monoxide isn’t known as the biggest silent killer for no reason, which means that it remains imperative to ensure that you implement the relevant preventative measures to keep your home safe from all gas-related risks. If you are yet to fit your home with carbon monoxide detectors, we suggest that this is the first thing that you set out to do after reading our article. We also strongly recommend, that if you cannot remember the last time you booked a boiler service, that you contact a reputable engineer to carry out gas services in Milton Keynes and surrounding areas!