We rely on household appliances for everything from home heating to cooking and hot showers. Most of us rarely think about these everyday conveniences unless they suddenly stop working. However, boilers, cookers and other gadgets can leak a poisonous gas called carbon monoxide (CO) and if the fault remained undetected, your life could be put in danger.
Carbon monoxide is impossible to detect by humans as it's tasteless, odourless and colourless. To protect your health and the loved ones you live with, it's important to install a carbon monoxide detector. t's important to install a carbon monoxide detector.
What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?
Exposure to CO gas sends 4,000 people to hospital each year in the UK – which means installing a carbon monoxide detector should be top of your to-do list at home. Even if you already have one fitted, you should be aware of the signs if you're exposed to the gas. Here are the most common flu-like symptoms to be aware of:
- Shortness of breath.
- Stomach pain.
- Tiredness and confusion.
- Nausea (feeling sick) and vomiting.
What to do if my carbon monoxide alarm is going off or I suspect a leak?
If you feel like you’re suffering from one of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, the first thing you need to do is to stop using all appliances, switch them off, and open doors and windows to ventilate the property. You’ll then need to gather anyone in your home and:
- Evacuate the property immediately – stay calm and avoid raising your heart rate.
- Call the gas emergency number on 0800 111 999 to report the incident, or the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Gas Safety Advice Line on 0800 300 363.
- Don't go back into the property – wait for advice from the emergency services.
- Seek immediate medical help – you may not realise you've been affected by the carbon monoxide, and going outside into fresh air won't treat any exposure by itself
- Seek professional help to evaluate all of your fuel burning appliances and identify any other potential sources of carbon monoxide, to prevent it happening again in future
How do carbon monoxide detectors work?
They're a lot like smoke detectors, but instead of looking for signs of fire, they detect levels of carbon monoxide over time and sound an alarm.
In most cases, carbon monoxide gas is produced when household fuels such as natural gas, coal and wood don’t burn properly. Badly installed appliances are responsible for most carbon monoxide leaks.
Do I have to install a carbon monoxide detector at home?
Legally, you're not required to install a detector unless you're a landlord. Currently, only 39% of UK households own a carbon monoxide detector according to a recent survey. This low figure may be because it’s only compulsory to have one in Northern Ireland. In the rest of the UK though, only private landlords are required by law to fit detectors in rooms that have gas or fuel-burning appliances.
What kind of carbon monoxide detector should I buy?
The London Fire Brigade advise that you check your carbon monoxide detector meets current British or European safety standards before you buy. Look out for the safety mark - EN 50291 and CE - on the online product description, on the product itself, and on the packaging. There are several types of alarm to choose from and each works slightly differently.
- Battery-operated detectors sometimes have a digital screen so you know it's working, but it’s a good idea to check your batteries every three months to make sure your detectors are working properly.
- Dual-function detectors pick up smoke, carbon monoxide, as well as other gases and even heat.
- Hardwired detectors are connected to your home's electrical grid. This means you’ll cut out the cost of batteries but they won’t work during a power cut.
- Digital detectors monitor the levels of carbon monoxide in your home and keep you updated with a digital display. They’re usually more expensive, but they do give you a higher level of safety as they can pick up levels that are below the alarm threshold, record levels that may have happened while you were away, and assess the degree of hazard if the alarm sounds. They may also help emergency services in understanding the level of past or ongoing exposure to the gas.
Installing a carbon monoxide detector
Depending on the type you pick, fitting a carbon monoxide detector can be a doddle – but there are a few things to remember:
- When fitting your alarm, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and any guidance videos that come with it.
- If it’s out of sight, it could be out of mind. Installation instructions may vary so ensure you follow the manufacturer guidelines. Many will suggest you place your alarm in a central area at head height so you can keep an eye on your carbon monoxide levels.
- If you have more than one alarm, place one near your gas or other fuel-burning appliances and one in an area you’re more likely to hear it go off if you’re asleep, such as just outside your bedroom door.
- Never fit a detector where it’s blocked by furniture or in any enclosed spaces like cupboards. Don’t place it above a sink either or in other ventilated areas like doors and windows.
When should I replace my carbon monoxide detector?
A smarter future with clever CO alarms
As well as smart thermostats, smart carbon monoxide alarms are becoming more common in UK homes. They’re the most advanced detectors available, performing their own checks to make sure they're working properly, and even syncing with home-automation apps so you can check your home CO levels if you're away for a while.
If you’re worried about carbon monoxide leaking from an older boiler, our boiler cover offers an annual service to make sure your it's working properly.