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Carbon Monoxide Safety

The following messages and information can sound frightening but there are some simple ways to safely enjoy effective home heating with wood and solid fuels.

The Problem

There is a great lack of public awareness surrounding carbon monoxide and the use of woodburning stoves, open fires and solid fuel boilers and cookers. Many people think that carbon monoxide only comes from gas appliances but the truth is that any fuel that burns, creates carbon monoxide.

Woodburning and solid fuel use has increased significantly in recent years but the safety messages have yet to catch up!

We all know that fire can be dangerous but you are statistically more likely to suffer injury from CO poisoning than from a chimney fire. There are between 15 and 25 deaths per year from CO poisoning due to woodburning and solid fuel use. In addition there are 100’s of non-fatal poisoning incidents. We don’t really know how many due to a lack of proper investigation and reporting. Some people will be chronically poisoned and never know the cause.

How does CO Poisoning Happen?

Carbon Monoxide gas is produced when burning any fuel. Poisoning occurs if you breathe it. You can’t see or smell carbon monoxide so unless you have a working alarm, you may be unaware of any problem. It can kill quickly and without warning. The symptoms of low level CO poisoning are often mistaken for flu or generally feeling run down. They include headache, fatigue, dizziness, feeling or being sick.

Burning any solid fuel produces CO along with the other combustion gasses. These normally pass harmlessly out the top of the chimney. If however the chimney is blocked or leaky, if the fire / appliance is faulty or if the ventilation to the fire is inadequate, CO gas may enter your property. This can happen in a different room from the location of the fire.

Remember, in the UK there is no requirement for someone calling themselves a chimney sweep to have undertaken any training or registered with a proper trade association. You expect your gas engineer to be trained and registered and it is equally important that your chimney sweep is too. Please use a member of the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps. They have the best training in the UK and can prevent or draw attention to a problem before it happens.

How to Stay Safer

  • Ensure your chimney is swept regularly by Guild registered sweep and follow any safety advice.
  • Have Carbon Monoxide alarms fitted and correctly located (many alarms are fitted in the wrong place). Many Guild sweeps can provide you with an alarm.
  • Don’t ignore an alarm, even if you are not using your fire or boiler. Phone the number on the back of the alarm or the emergency services.
  • Ensure that the fire has adequate ventilation. Don’t block air vents. Guild sweeps are trained to check ventilation on every job and advise you accordingly.
  • Always use registered installers for fitting woodburners, fires etc.

You can get excellent advice, information and statistics on CO issues at www.co-gassafety.co.uk

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