Carbon Monoxide is produced from the incomplete combustion of organic and fossil fuels such as oil, gas, wood, charcoal, and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). The normal combustion process in the presence of oxygen in the air releases carbon from the fuel, producing Carbon Dioxide (CO2), the same gas that we exhale when we breathe. However, if there is a lack of oxygen for the combustion process, or if the heating appliance is faulty, then Carbon Monoxide will be produced-which we do not want to inhale.
Many common household appliances such as cookers, boilers, and fires can generate CO if they are not maintained or operating correctly. In fact, any appliance that is fuelled by gas, coal, oil, or wood can create CO by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. This generation of CO can be caused by poor ventilation, blockages in the appliance, lack of oxygen in the air, or damaged, faulty, or poorly-maintained appliances.
To prevent the production of CO, all appliances should be serviced annually and maintained properly. For example, chimneys should be swept regularly and gas and oil appliances should be serviced by a qualified, competent engineer.
Sources outside the home
CO can also be produced from both charcoal and gas BBQs, generators, patio heaters, portable heaters and chimeneas, camping stoves and lanterns, engines such as lawn mowers, cars, motorcycles, and large heaters used in swimming pools, hot tubs, and laundries.
As CO moves and rises with air currents it can penetrate brick, plaster walls, and ceilings; so be particularly alert and use a CO alarm if you live in a flat above or adjacent to a restaurant or food retailer, or a small commercial business such as a garage, laundrette, restaurant, swimming pool, etc.
Spot the dangers signs
You’ll be able to spot existing and potential CO dangers by recognizing these tell-tale signs:
- Staining, sooting, or discolouration around the appliance
- Appliances that burn slowly or have orange or “floppy” flames, or that go out unexpectedly
- A yellow or orange flame; it should be blue
- Condensation or dampness on walls or windows in the room after the appliance is lit
- A strange smell when the appliance is on
- Rusting or water streaking on an appliance cabinet, vent, or chimney
- Loose or disconnected vent/chimney connections or guards
- Smouldering BBQs
- Crumbling or damaged masonry in chimneys, excess smoking from a wood or coal fire, or a room filling with smoke from an open fire or wood burner
Avoid the following:
- Using camp lanterns and stoves inside tents or caravans without adequate ventilation
- Using generators or BBQs indoors or close to windows or ventilation units
- Drying clothes on appliances in a way that blocks ventilation or air flow
Protection when away from home
A CO alarm can quickly tell you if an environment is safe. Most battery CO alarms are portable and can travel with you when you are away from home, such as on holiday. Each type of accommodation has unique CO risks, but one common danger is the buildup of CO in a confined space, especially if you are using unfamiliar fuel burning appliances. For example, take along a CO alarm if you are staying in a cottage or villa, on a powered boat such as a canal boat, or when camping or caravanning. Be safe whether at home or away: make sure you have a working CO alarm.