Carbon monoxide – why would you risk it?

Latest research commissioned by Gas Safe Register has found that home safety, including the condition of the boiler and appliances, falls low on the list of priorities for most homebuyers, says Andy Speake, National Technical Manager at Aico.

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More than a quarter of UK homebuyers put re-decorating at the top of their list when moving into a new home, compared to a mere 12% who would fit a new boiler. However, almost three in 10 homebuyers had to replace their boiler earlier than anticipated due to it being faulty or old. So, buyers’ wish-lists and reality don’t always go hand in hand.

Whilst this attitude is understandable – who doesn’t want their new home looking great – it’s potentially dangerous. One of the most important things a homebuyer should do is check out the boiler. If this hasn’t been done at the survey stage (and it’s not standard practice), and there are no records of boiler servicing provided by the seller, then getting that boiler serviced by a Gas Safe Registered installer is essential.

Raising the alarm

A lack of awareness is the problem here. It’s difficult for residents to think of a boiler being potentially dangerous. It’s normally out of sight, and as long as it’s heating the house/hot water, it’s generally forgotten about; out of sight, out of mind. When people think of gas safety, they think of the obvious danger from natural gas – explosions. They don’t think of carbon monoxide as mostly they don’t know what it is, where it comes from and just how lethal it can be.

At Aico, we have also been working hard to highlight the risks associated with carbon monoxide, most recently with our ‘Why Would You Risk It?’ campaign.

We have also been trying out new methods of raising awareness, using virtual reality at exhibitions. Unlike traditional user interfaces, virtual reality places the user inside an experience, immersing them and enabling them to interact. We are using it to show the effects and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and why installing a carbon monoxide alarm could save their life.

However, you also have a role to play. If you are working on a recently purchased property, raise the issue of the boiler servicing with the new owner and, if it’s an old boiler, suggest a new combi one is worth considering. It’s also important to stress the use of carbon monoxide alarms. Whilst the main cause of carbon monoxide leaks is from faulty appliances or incorrectly installed ones; carbon monoxide leaks could also result from poor ventilation and blockages, external sources/neighbouring properties or cracks in chimneys or flues, which develop over time. The only way to detect carbon monoxide leaks is with a carbon monoxide alarm.

If there is major work taking place at the property (which is likely if you are involved), then mains-powered smoke alarms will be required. Mains-powered carbon monoxide alarms can be easily incorporated into the smoke alarm system, as long as you also fit an alarm control switch to enable residents to identify which alarm has triggered.

Carbon monoxide alarms: quality counts

There are many carbon monoxide alarms to choose from, but the quality varies considerably. Only recommend a carbon monoxide alarm that is BS EN 50291 certified and only opt for known, reputable manufacturers. Check to see what the testing regime is during manufacture. I recommend one where each alarm is tested at multiple stages of manufacture and never one that is batch tested.

Mains-powered carbon monoxide alarms are the safest option as they provide added reliability as batteries don’t need to be changed. In the event of mains failure, they have battery back-up and, if you select ones with lithium battery back-up, there’s no chance of someone ‘borrowing’ the battery for another device.

The quality of the alarm also has more widespread implications: the better the quality, the better the range of features, functions and accessories. A key feature to look out for is data extraction technology which can provide invaluable information on the alarm such as battery back-up or battery life, alarm sensor status, any alarm activation with details of when it occurred and detection levels of carbon monoxide. Aico’s AudioLINK data extraction technology is available on all of our carbon monoxide alarms and is incredibly easy to use with a free app.

Quality alarms also have wireless interconnection facilities, so can be effectively linked with other carbon monoxide alarms – and even smoke alarms – within the property, for maximum safety.

The very latest alarms to hit the market are combined heat/carbon monoxide alarms, such as Aico’s Ei3028, designed specifically for the kitchen, providing protection against fire and carbon monoxide in one unit.

When are carbon monoxide alarms required?

Where and when carbon monoxide alarms are required is very much dependent on the location of the property and its tenure. Scotland has the most thorough regulations, requiring carbon monoxide alarms to be fitted in all properties where there is a fuel-burning appliance or a flue. In Northern Ireland, it’s when any new or replacement fuel appliance is installed (except cookers).

England and Wales have the least stringent requirement, with carbon monoxide alarms required under Building Regulations in rooms where any new or replacement solid-fuel appliance is installed. In private rented properties in England, landlords must retrospectively fit a carbon monoxide alarm in every room with a solid fuel-burning appliance.

However, we recommend following British Standard BS EN 50292:2019 which states best practice is fitting a carbon monoxide alarm in all rooms that contain any fuel-burning appliance, rooms where people spend the most time and where they sleep, plus any room that has a flue running through it.

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