About 50 people die in the UK each year as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. Colorless and odorless, this highly poisonous gas attacks silently, virtually impossible to identify except with an alarm. Unfortunately, with about 50% of Brits boasting no alarms in their home, many expose themselves to carbon monoxide poisoning without even knowing it.
Carbon monoxide carries with it symptoms that closely resemble that of flu – such as nausea, dizziness, headaches, confusion, weakness and finally, unconsciousness. This close similarity makes diagnosis very difficult. Little wonder then that carbon monoxide has been dubbed the ‘silent killer’. Deadly as it may be, though, you can avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. First, you need to identify the sources of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Your Boiler is a Major Culprit
Despite its many advantages, central heating boiler is one of the major sources of carbon monoxide poisoning in many UK homes. Carbon monoxide is produced when carbon based, organic fuels such as gas do not burn completely. Your boiler begins to produce carbon monoxide when available oxygen for combustion in the combustion chamber is insufficient.
Poor installation practices could cause your boiler to vent flue gasses inside the boiler room rather than out. Although carbon monoxide is not a major component of flue gas, it forms a small percentage which builds over time into a more dangerous concentration.
However, even boilers that have been properly installed can get dangerous. Over long periods of usage, boilers – like any other home appliance – begin to develop faults. Poor maintenance practices allows the bulk of these faults to go unnoticed. Potential sources of leakage are thus allowed to develop and, probably, expand into hazardous sources of carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide (CO) when consumed alters the nature of the blood’s hemoglobin by displacing the oxygen present within. The result is known as “carboxyhemoglobin”. This dangerous combination of carbon monoxide and the blood’s hemoglobin forces the blood to carry CO to the body’s organs and tissues, starving them of vital oxygen and nutrients needed for survival. Eventually, cells and tissues begin to fail, ultimately dying off.
Tips to Identify a Dangerous Boiler
It is estimated that at least one in ten Brits have experienced some degree of carbon monoxide poisoning in their home – most of this emanating from the central heating system. This makes it extremely important that you are able to tell when you are faced with the risk of poisoning. Consider a few tips and signs to watch out for in order to ensure your boiler is completely safe.
- Your central heating system is producing a strange noise that you can’t place. This could be sign of a faulty pump or an indication of an old fan. These are signs of wear that might also mean a leak exists somewhere.
- Your boiler has aged and constantly breaks down. There could be much larger problems (like a gas leak) which are not identified with each repair.
- Your boiler is releasing a strange smell. Although carbon monoxide is odorless, when it is emitted by your boiler because your boiler isn’t burning properly, it often has a faint smell.
- If dark markings begin to appear around the boiler (such as the ceiling above the boiler), it is usually a sign of a faulty boiler burning function. More than likely, though, it also potentially points to a leak coming from the flue – which includes some level of carbon monoxide leakage. Get it checked immediately.
- Your home fails to get as warm as it normally gets despite your boiler being turned on. Or your hot water tap fails to get as hot as it should. This is an indication that your central heating system is no longer running efficiently and could be faulty. It is time to get it checked.
- Condensation inside the boiler room – usually noticed on windows – is an indicator that your boiler isn’t properly vented. If that is the case, it means exhaust gasses aren’t leaving your house, and these gasses include carbon monoxide. You want to get your boiler inspected as soon as you observe this.
- Should your Combi boiler pilot light blow out from a strong blue (with a small yellow at the tips) to a completely yellow weak looking flame, there is a strong possibility of the presence of carbon monoxide. This change in burn flame indicates a shortage of oxygen required to burn the fuel – suggesting the existence of carbon monoxide.
- If you have a carbon monoxide detector installed in your home, it will begin to beep to indicate the presence of carbon monoxide in the house.
What to do When You Suspect Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
All of the above signs are pointers that carbon monoxide might be present in your home. If you notice any of these signs or if your alarm goes off, you want to act immediately. The following steps from the NHS should quickly come to mind:
- Remain calm. Shut down every appliance and open all doors and windows for proper ventilation
- Quickly evacuate the property and call on the National Gas Emergency Helpline (0800 111 999) for help
- Wait for the coming of emergency services before returning to the property
- Locate a hospital and get medical help, just in case you have been poisoned without noticing
Prevention of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Children under the age of 16 and aged ones over 64 are more likely to die of carbon monoxide poisoning than others. However, many between the ages of 16 and 64 have died of ‘unexplained causes’ now believed to be possible CO poisoning. This calls for concern.
Getting new appliances is one way to limit the risk of CO poisoning. The best way to limit your exposure to carbon monoxide, though, is through preventive practices. Always ensure your gas appliances (such as your boiler and central heating system) are tested annually by a local Gas Safe engineer. You also want to service your boiler at least once each year by a Gas Safe engineer.
The most effective measure to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is early detection. Carbon monoxide alarms are relatively cheap and easy to install, providing an extra measure of security against CO poisoning by releasing early warning signals. Be sure to use a detector that is connected to a sound alarm – for easy warning.
Although “black spot detectors” have become quite popular, they are not recommended by the Gas Safe register due to the irregularities around their operation and limited warning signs (no audible signal). If you keep all gas appliances properly maintained, you will have a much lower chance of carbon monoxide leakage or poisoning.