Also known as the ‘silent killer’ carbon monoxide is a serious threat in the home. It has no smell, no taste, you cannot see it, hear it, or touch it, and is, therefore undetectable without a carbon monoxide alarm.
What is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas that is produced by the incomplete burning of fuels such as coal, gas, wood, and oil. Any appliance that burns fuel can produce carbon monoxide, and this is why, if you have any fireplace, fuel-burning stove, gas boiler, or other fuel-burning appliance in your home, you must have a carbon monoxide detector.
When carbon monoxide intoxicates somebody, it can cause damage to the organs, and in more severe cases, death. An estimated 60 people die every year in the UK from carbon monoxide poisoning, and this is why it is essential that you have a carbon monoxide detector, that it is placed in the correct position, and that you regularly test that it is working properly.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Carbon monoxide detectors are designed to alert you when there is carbon monoxide in the air. Generally speaking, if there are low levels of carbon monoxide in the air, the alarm can often take a few hours to go off, whereas if there are higher levels, it should alarm immediately.
There are generally three types of carbon monoxide detectors:
- The electrochemical detector uses a chemical solution with electrodes that can detect the change in electric currents that occur when there is carbon monoxide in the air.
- The biomimetic sensor consists of a gel inside the detector that will change colour when it detects carbon monoxide. This colour change will trigger the alarm. It is also worth noting that some biomimetic sensors are also available that just change colour – with no alarm – meaning that they are not ideal.
- Metal oxide semiconductors have an alarm that sounds when there are changes in the electric current caused by carbon monoxide.
It is important to remember that a carbon monoxide detector and a smoke alarm both detect different things, and you must have them both installed.
Where to put your Carbon Monoxide Detector
Due to the nature of carbon monoxide (it is lighter than air, for example) it is essential that you place your detector in the correct position. There are a number of guidelines as to where you position your carbon monoxide detector:
- Try to ensure that you have a detector in every room where there is a fuel-burning appliance
- If you can, for whatever reason, only install one carbon monoxide detector, make sure you put it near your bedroom so that it would wake you up if you are asleep
- Your alarm should be at least one metre from fuel-burning appliances such as an oven or boiler
- Try to keep your alarm at head height – about 1.5 m from the ground or above, and at least 15 cm from the ceiling
- You can put the carbon monoxide alarm on the wall or stand it on a shelf, bookcase, or table
- Never put your detector in a cupboard or near an extractor fan
- Regularly test your alarm and make sure that you read the instructions that come with the alarm diligently
What to do if your Carbon Monoxide Detector goes off
If you have a carbon monoxide detector that is going off, the first thing to remember is not to panic. The whole point of having the alarm is to notify you before it can do you any harm.
- If you can, turn off all of your appliances, open as many of the windows and doors as you can, gather everyone in the house together, and go outside.
- Check how everyone is feeling – symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include a headache, dizziness, feeling sick, feeling weak, confusion, chest and muscle pain, and shortness of breath.
- If anyone is feeling any of these symptoms, dial 999.
- Only go back into your house when the alarm stops or the emergency services say that it is safe to go back in.
- Get in touch with a professional carbon monoxide tester to check your appliances and find out the cause of the alarm going off.
You should be aware that the alarm might ‘beep’ occasionally when the battery is running out. It is important that you know the difference between this and the actual alarm (and make sure that you change the batteries if this is the case!).
Whether you have a gas central heating system or are looking at alternative ways to heat you home due to energy price rises, it is essential that you make sure that you are responsible when it comes to carbon monoxide. By getting an alarm, you can ensure that you and your family are safe in your home.