The down low on Carbon Monoxide by Dawsons
January 2, 2017
There are many joys of having an open fire; the warmth, the relaxation of sitting watching the flames, the romance of curling up together. But like all fossil fuel burning heating systems, there are also dangers, the most important of which is carbon monoxide poisoning.
According to the NHS, over 50 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning every year in the UK, and over 200 need hospital treatment.
At Dawson’s we want all our customers to enjoy our fuels safely, so we’ve put together a brief guide to carbon monoxide.
What is carbon monoxide poisoning?
Carbon Monoxide poisoning happens when carbon monoxide molecules combine with the haemoglobin in your blood to form carboxyhaemoglobin. This is not poisonous in itself, however it does stop the haemoglobin molecules from absorbing oxygen and transporting it around your body, essentially choking you.
What causes carbon monoxide to build up?
Carbon monoxide is not a problem in well maintained appliances and well ventilated fires, because the burning carbon will combine with two oxygen molecules to form harmless carbon dioxide. However, if there is not enough oxygen getting to your fire, for example if your chimney or flue is blocked, then the carbon will only combine with one molecule of oxygen, forming the much more dangerous carbon monoxide.
What symptoms should you look for?
The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to the flu, but without a temperature. Low level exposure may make you feel dizzy or light-headed, nauseous, tired and confused and short of breath. Higher levels of exposure can be especially dangerous, leading to loss of co-ordination, confusion, racing heart and eventually loss of consciousness, but prolonged low levels will also take their toll.
How do I know my symptoms are caused by carbon monoxide?
If your symptoms feel better when you go out, and go away completely when you go on holiday, or if they follow a seasonal pattern that matches your heating use, then you could be being exposed to carbon monoxide. Ask other people in your home if they are feeling the same way, and look for symptoms in your pets too.
How to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning
The best way to avoid exposure to carbon monoxide poisoning is to have all your devices serviced regularly by a qualified engineer. This includes all boilers and burners that use carbon based fuel, including gas, oil, biomass pellets, coal and wood. You should also get your chimney swept professionally on a regular basis to prevent blockages and ensure a good flow of air. The Association of Professional Independent Chimney Sweeps recommends once a year if you use smokeless fuel, twice a year for coal and quarterly for wood burning fires when they are in use.
You should also make sure that your home is well ventilated, even in the winter when you are trying to cut out draughts. Make sure airbricks are not blocked and use the trickle vents on double glazed windows.
Carbon Monoxide Monitors
To be extra safe, any Dawson’s customer with a real fire, or a wood or pellet burning stove or boiler, should fit a carbon monoxide detector. These will detect problems long before you feel any symptoms, in cases of low dose exposure, and could save your life if there is a larger build up of the gas. Carbon monoxide detectors look just like smoke detectors and can be fitted quickly and easily for just a few pounds.