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Carbon Monoxide – safety issues, warning signs, symptoms, alarms, general information.

Fireangel CO-9D carbon monoxide alarm

The Lowdown On Carbon

Carbon monoxide is colourless, odourless, tasteless and potentially
fatal gas – which makes it vitally important that you know how to
prevent and notice problems.

How are you at risk?

Gas, oil, coal boilers, fires, car exhaust fumes and wood burning
stoves have the potential to produce harmful levels of CO gas if the
appliance is not installed, ventilated, or operated correctly.

Check the colour of the boiler’s flame in your home and accommodation;
bright blue is completely normal, while a yellowy orange colour means
there is a possible carbon monoxide presence – unless it is a fuel
effect fire or an appliance without a flue, which actually display blue

Also keep a look out for yellow/brown staining on appliances and get a
qualified technician to inspect appliances if a pilot light blows out.
If there appears to be more condensation inside windows than usual, then
this is also a common signal of a carbon monoxide problem.

Ensure that wood being burned is “seasoned”, which means aged, processed
for burning and air-dried firewood that burns very hot and clean. These
“seasoned woods” are widely available online. Dry wood can be usually
spotted by splits across the grain on the ends of the wood. It is
advised to have any wood indoors for a week or so to ensure dryness
before it is actually burnt.

Do NOT under any circumstances burn painted

Blocked flues and chimneys can also cut off ventilation and prevent CO
from leaving premises, so these need to be cleaned and checked

Cars should never have their engines
left running in closed garages for
heat or light etc and should be only started in highly ventilated

If you are concerned about the threat
of carbon monoxide poisoning whilst on holiday in the UK or abroad, you
may wish to take a battery-operated carbon monoxide alarm with you.

Yearly checks

Have any heat-creating appliances checked by a professional technician.
However, it is important that the technician is registered with the Gas
Safe Register for gas boilers check-ups and Oftec for Oil heating system

Chimneys should be unblocked once a year to ensure that ventilation is
up to standard. Blocked flues and chimneys – which can be caused by any
number of unconventional problems – mean the gas can’t escape and is
inhaled by the unsuspecting individual.

Health evidence of carbon monoxide

People exposed to small levels of
carbon monoxide often display flu like symptoms such as:-

• feeling sick
• headaches
• sore throat
• dry cough
• abdominal pain

However, you will not be suffering from a high temperature like if you
were suffering from a flu virus.

Severe poisoning is obviously more
serious and can be fatal, with the CO gases stopping the blood
functioning correctly, causing the following:-

• irregular heart rates
• hyperventilation
• confusion
• drowsiness
• difficulty breathing
• seizures
• losing consciousness
• brain damage

Some symptoms can occur a few days or even months after exposure to
carbon monoxide. These may include confusion, loss of memory and
problems with coordination.

Warning signs

Good ways to spot poisoning may be a possibility if other people you are
staying with are also suffering similar symptoms. The symptoms may
disappear if you leave the location for a couple of days. This is
obviously more likely to occur during the winter when heating is being

Since the 1st October, 2010 (UK), where a new or replacement fixed
solid fuel appliance is installed in a dwelling, a carbon monoxide alarm
should be provided in the room where the appliance is located. They need
to comply with BSEN 50291:2001 and be powered by a battery designed to
operate for the working life of the alarm. The alarm should incorporate
a warning device to alert users when the working life of the alarm is
due to pass. ‘Type A’ carbon monoxide alarms with fixed wiring (not
plug-in types) may be used as an alternative provided that they are
fitted with a sensor failure warning device.

The LPCB or BSI Kitemark standard-approved carbon monoxide alarm should
be located in the same room as the appliance: on the ceiling or at least
300mm from any wall or, if it is located on a wall, as high up as
possible (above any doors and windows) but not within 150mm of the
ceiling; and between 1m and 3m horizontally from the appliance.
Fireangel 7yr carbon monoxide alarm

It is, however, good advice for
carbon monoxide alarms to be installed in
every home, as they provide an instant warning for any problems.


If you suspect that your accommodation has a presence of carbon
monoxide, switch off the appliance and gas supply, then leave the
location immediately.  You will be able to contact
technicians/landlords/hotel staff to report the suspected problem while
safely in a different location. You can call the National Grid on their
free 0800 111 999 number for advice.

Your doctor and hospitals will be able to check your blood and breathe
for potential CO problems, but there would be no need for medical
treatment in minor cases, as the clean air will restore your blood back
to normal. CO leaves the blood after approximately four hours, so do get
checked immediately. Make sure that you state that you suspect that your
symptoms are from carbon monoxide.

The more severe cases may require oxygen through a tight-fitting mask to
boost the oxygen levels in the blood and remove the carbon monoxide from
the haemoglobin in the blood. Any problems (vision and coordination)
noticed since the treatment should be reported to your doctor.

However, treatment for pregnant women needs to be continued for longer,
as even if there is no evidence of carbon monoxide in the patient’s
blood, the medical team will want to make sure that there is a no carbon
monoxide in the blood of the foetus.


There is no alternative to proper
installation and maintenance of your appliances but fitting a
CE-approved audible carbon monoxide alarm is a good second line of

Further useful
carbon monoxide safety advice