Understanding gas safety
Having a carbon monoxide alarm is an important part of keeping any home safe and risk free, but what about the actual condition of the gas appliances you use on a daily basis? Properly maintained gas boilers and natural gas appliances are necessary for ensuring your home isn’t being exposed to poisonous carbon monoxide gas. Fortunately, you can easily reduce the risk of faulty gas utilities and carbon monoxide exposure by following a few simple precautions.
What is carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas that is produced when carbon-based fuels aren’t burned properly, such as oil, coal and wood. This creates excess CO, which is harmful to humans. Exposure to CO can cause serious damage to the body and nervous system, and in extremely severe cases it can even lead to death.
Carbon monoxide is very hard to detect without a CO alarm installed in your home. It emits no discernible smell, taste or colour, making it a tricky gas to be aware of. Most cases of carbon monoxide poisoning are caused because of poor ventilation, lack of maintenance or a blocked chimney or flue.
You can find more information on the dangers of carbon monoxide here.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning
An estimated 50 people die each year in the UK from carbon monoxide poisoning - that's almost one fatality a week! The deadly gas is dangerous because it prevents blood from delivering oxygen to important organs in the body. Serious exposure over an extended period of time can lead to paralysis, brain damage and death.
Installing a carbon monoxide alarm in your home is a necessary safety precaution, although being aware of the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning is also important. Here are some common symptoms to remember:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Physical weakness
- Chest pain
- Breathing difficulties
What causes a gas leak?
Poorly maintained gas appliances are often the leading cause of a gas leak within the home. They’re also the result of loose, cracked or poorly fitted pipes. Gas boilers pose a CO risk if a valve breaks or malfunctions, or if the flue becomes blocked or inaccessible, preventing CO from venting properly.
Old and used appliances are particularly susceptible to gas leaks and should be used with caution. If for some reason they can’t be replaced with a new or modern model, make sure you have a Gas Safe registered engineer inspect each appliance to ensure that it’s functioning properly.
How to detect and prevent gas leaks
Homeowners should install a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in their home. Detectors with digital readers are convenient and allow you to check if CO is identified in your home instantly. Make sure that your alarm is positioned in an area where it’ll wake you up if you’re asleep. A bedroom is ideal.
Detecting gas leaks without an alarm is possible, but not recommended. Appliances will collect soot or gradually become scorched, the air in your home or living space will become stale and open flames tend to burn bright blue rather than orange. If you do suspect a gas leak, always consultant an expert.
Ensure all gas appliances have proper ventilation. Horizontal vent pipes, like those found on water boilers, should vent air up and outside. This reduces and can even prevent carbon monoxide from leaking out from loose pipes.
Make sure your living space has plenty of fresh air, too. Keep windows open when possible and allow fresh air to blow through your home.
Never leave your car running in a sealed space, such as a garage with the garage door closed. This is a common way that people contract carbon monoxide poisoning.
If you are a renter or tenant of a building, ask your landlord to see a current copy of the building’s gas safety certificate. Landlords are required to show you the certificate, which verifies that they have had an annual gas safety check performed on all of the gas appliances in the building.
What to do if a gas appliance is faulty
Call the gas emergency services line at 0800-111-999 if you suspect your gas appliances are leaking or faulty. This includes:
- Radiators and central heating systems
- Gas stoves and ovens
Then turn off each gas appliance and stop the flow of gas coming into your home. There should be a valve on your home’s gas meter that allows you to shut down the supply of gas. Once that’s taken care of, begin airing your home out by opening the doors and windows. Avoid any action that may produce a spark, such as turning on an electrical switch, plugging a device into an outlet, striking a match or using a lighter. Any open flame or spark will ignite CO that has collected in an enclosed space, so you need to be very careful.
A Gas Safe registered engineer is the only person qualified to conduct work on domestic gas appliances. You can check whether an engineer is certified to work on a specific appliance on Gas Safe’s website. Always follow their advice and recommendations in the event that more work is needed. This will help to ensure the safety of you, your family, and your home.
If you're experiencing any other issues with your boiler (other than gas leaks), take a look at our "9 Signs It's Time For A New Boiler" article.