As the temperature drops, more of us look to increase our gas appliance use from boilers to warm air heaters, cookers and fires. However, the very appliances sought for comfort and safety can place lives at risk.
It is essential that gas appliances are correctly installed and maintained to reduce the dangers of leaks, fires, explosions and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide can kill quickly and without warning, as it cannot be seen, tasted or smelt. The hazardous gas is produced whenever a fuel is not burnt properly, caused most commonly by faulty boilers, gas fires and cookers. Last year, British Gas engineers found 26,000 unsafe or dangerous gas and electric appliances in UK homes.
A carbon monoxide alarm is the only certified source of detection, but nearly 70% of UK households are without a working carbon monoxide alarm. As millions of Britons face higher gas bills, there is a danger that a reduction in income will push regular appliance servicing and high-quality carbon monoxide alarms further down the priority list.
Social housing residents may be particularly vulnerable until new government guidance on domestic alarms is published, as local authorities and housing associations are currently not required to supply carbon monoxide alarms in properties with gas or solid fuel combustion appliances such as coal or wood burning fires and stoves. Present legalisation that applies to landlords of private residential rental properties excludes oil and gas-based boilers, despite the risk of emitting the toxic gas.
While it is clear that a change in carbon monoxide legalisation is essential, residents and landlords can take steps to support gas safety in the months ahead.
Gas appliances should be safety checked annually and serviced regularly by a Gas Safe registered engineer. The register is the official list of businesses that are legally permitted to carry out gas work.
Every registered business employs an engineer(s), who is issued with a Gas Safe ID card, providing a seven-digit licence number that can be checked before any work is carried out. Tenants should make sure their landlord arranges an annual gas safety visit, and reminders can be set at StayGasSafe.co.uk.
However, any fuel-burning appliances should also be visually checked by residents year-round. There is often a significant focus on maintenance, but appliances should also be reviewed at the point of sale and installation, ensuring they are accepted by recognised testing laboratories and installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Landlords of private residential rental properties must install carbon monoxide alarms on the first day of the tenancy in any room containing an appliance that burns solid fuel. After this, tenants are responsible for regularly testing their carbon monoxide alarms and ensuring they are working effectively. This includes arranging for the replacement of batteries or alarms with the landlord.
For best practice, it is recommended that landlords fit carbon monoxide alarms in rooms containing any fuel-burning appliance, not just solid fuel appliances. Social housing associations and local authorities should be prepared to provide any additional support required once the new government guidance on domestic alarms is published.
Currently, the proposed changes under review include amending the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 to require social landlords to ensure at least one smoke alarm is installed on each storey of the premises on which there is a room used wholly or partly as living accommodation.
Friends, relatives or neighbours may be unable to arrange their own gas safety check or be unaware of what they need to do to protect themselves. Ensuring loved ones have their appliances checked and serviced regularly can help to keep more people safe.
Signs of carbon monoxide poisoning may include yellow instead of blue flames coming from the gas appliance or flames that are not fully formed, black, sooty marks on the front covers of gas fires, sooty or yellow/brown stains on or around boilers, stoves or fires, increased condensation on windows or an unfamiliar or burning smell when gas or oil appliances are on.
The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headaches, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. Carbon monoxide symptoms are often described as flu-like, resulting in the risk of being mistaken for the common cold or coronavirus. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be fatal or cause long-term health problems if victims are exposed to low doses over an extensive period.
Whilst ‘colour changing’ or ‘black spot’ tools are available to detect carbon monoxide, audible alarms are essential to indicate a problem as quickly as possible. For vulnerable tenants who may struggle to hear a standalone audible alarm, it is recommended to look for a carbon monoxide detector with interlinking technology.
Wirelessly interlinking multiple alarms will ensure that if one alarm triggers, all alarms in the property will also trigger, alerting everyone in the property. FireAngel interlinked alarms also mimic the sound pattern of the triggering alarm. For example, if a carbon monoxide alarm activates, then the smoke alarms will mimic its sound pattern.
This allows the occupant to act appropriately, for example, by evacuating in the case of a fire, or by opening all the windows, turning off all fuel-burning appliances and then evacuating in the case of a carbon monoxide alarm sound pattern.
With the continued rise in eCommerce, some online resellers may be supplying devices that only display the CE mark. CE marking means that the manufacturer declares that the product meets European safety, health or environmental requirements. However, it is critical that installers ensure that any carbon monoxide alarms they purchase are fully certified to the European standard EN 50291-1 and carry a third-party approval mark, such as the BSI Kitemark.
BSI is a leading certification body for carbon monoxide alarms and the Kitemark affixed to an alarm shows that BSI has independently tested samples of the alarm at its accredited test laboratory for compliance with the latest safety standard. The mark also demonstrates that BSI has assessed the place of manufacture to ensure production is controlled, sampled and checked. In addition, annual product audits are required to ensure ongoing compliance.
All FireAngel alarms are BSI Kitemarked to provide the highest standards in carbon monoxide and fire safety.
According to European Standard EN 50292, carbon monoxide alarms should be fitted in the same room as fuel-burning appliances, such as an open fire, gas cooker or boiler, and can be wall or ceiling mounted.
It is advised that additional alarms should be located in bedrooms relatively close to the breathing zone of the occupants, whilst alarms should also be installed in any room where there is a flue running through it.
Everyone deserves to feel safe in their home. For further gas safety advice and to find or check an engineer visit the Gas Safe Register website or alternatively call the free helpline on 0800 408 5500.