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How to prevent Carbon Monoxide leaks

Make no mistake, carbon monoxide is a killer and prevention is better than cure. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a highly poisonous substance produced by the incomplete burning of gas and liquid petroleum gas (LPG). It is particularly difficult to detect because it has no colour, smell or taste.

Whether you are indoors, at the office, in the car or even on holiday you are never too far away from a potential source of carbon monoxide poisoning. These include:

  • Car exhausts and vehicle emissions
  • Wood burning stoves
  • Fires
  • Boilers
  • Water heaters
  • Paraffin heaters
  • Gas wall heaters
  • Furnaces
  • LPG gas appliances in caravans and boats
  • Barbecues
  • Damaged or blocked chimneys preventing adequate ventilation
  • A furnace or wood burning stove installed in a small room or one with inadequate ventilation
  • If you live in a flat above a shop or industrial unit you could be at risk from industrial appliances below
  • Gas or petrol powered garden tools
  • Gas powered tools such as power washers, chain saws, concrete-cutting saws, floor buffers and welders
  • Generators
  • Cigarette or tobacco smoke
  • Gas heaters used in camping
  • Poorly maintained heating units in hotels and guest houses
  • Propane powered forklifts and other equipment
  • Paint removers and strippers containing methylene chloride, which can create carbon monoxide in the body if the fumes are inhaled
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning is also common around motor boats, for example when swimming around swim platforms and boarding ladders close to the exhaust area
  • Indoor car and motor shows can be an area of risk, as are kilns in pottery studios, indoor ice arenas (from engines on the resurfacing equipment) and any environment in which combustion engines are used.

The biggest source of carbon monoxide poisoning in the home is when a gas appliance has been incorrectly fitted or poorly maintained or when your flue, chimney or vent is in need of repair or blocked, for example by a bird's nest. Chimneys and flues should be kept clean and free of blockages by being swept at least once a year.

You can prevent carbon monoxide leaks by having your gas appliances regularly checked by a registered gas engineer to detect any problems. If you live in rented accommodation ensure that the landlord regularly checks and maintains any gas appliances in your home. They are legally obliged to do this. Always ensure registered professionals install, maintain and repair your gas appliances. Don't be tempted to go for a cheap engineer who is not registered or do the repairs yourself. Never use a gas appliance for a purpose it wasn't intended for, for example using your stove to heat your house.

Install carbon monoxide detectors in the home and office. These are designed to go off if abnormal levels of carbon monoxide are detected. It is advisable to get a detector with an audible alarm as you are at particular risk when sleeping. You can purchase a carbon monoxide detector from your local DIY store.

Check for lazy, yellow or orange flames on your gas hob when you are cooking. Dark staining around gas appliances, a pilot light in your boiler that frequently blows out and increased condensation on the windows could be signs of a carbon monoxide leak.

Poor ventilation can prevent carbon monoxide escaping. Ensure that the areas around gas appliances are well ventilated, particularly if you are in an enclosed space such as a caravan. Take professional advice when installing a heating device in a small room, or a room without a window.

Never run your car in the garage with the doors closed. Don't use barbeques , charcoal grills or camping stoves inside your garage, basement or home. Keep caravans and campervans well ventilated when using gas appliances. Cigarette and tobacco smoke is also a major source of carbon monoxide. You could be at risk in the work place particularly if your work involves the burning of natural gas or other carbon materials such as petrol, kerosene, propane, coal or wood.

The six main symptoms of carbon monoxide to look out for are headaches, dizziness, nausea, breathlessness, collapse and loss of consciousness. Sufferers from carbon monoxide poisoning often think they have the flu, however be particularly aware if more than one family member has the symptoms or they come and go or are particularly bad at certain times of the day. Even animals are susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning.

If you suspect, or have detected a leak, stop using your gas appliance. Move away from the source, open a window or go outside for fresh air and seek medical advice if you or any member of your family feels unwell. High levels of carbon monoxide can cause death or serious illness so don't take any chances.