What is carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of the combustion of carbon based fuels. That includes gas, petrol, wood and even tobacco. It’s a colourless gas that has no smell. People have no way of detecting it. As it’s a byproduct of burning fuel it’s always in the environment, but at low levels that have no noticeable effect on people. Smokers include it in the suite of poisons they inhale. If ventilation is adequate it dissipates readily and does no harm. But it presents a very serious problem if you breathe it in at higher than normal concentrations and keep breathing it in. It can kill you.
What does carbon monoxide do?
Incredibly, it has 210 times more affinity than oxygen for the part of your blood that carries oxygen, haemoglobin. It means carbon monoxide is eagerly picked up from your lungs by the bloodstream and carried through your body. The problem is your tissues and organs need haemoglobin to bring them oxygen, and they need it to take away carbon dioxide. Carbon monoxide interferes with this process. It isn’t released by the haemoglobin, so the more carbon monoxide you breathe in, the worse this vital part of your circulatory system works. The carbon monoxide eventually overwhelms it. The organs affected include your brain, which likes a lot of oxygen. Hence one of the symptoms of CO poisoning is confusion and lack of concentration. That doesn’t help you realise what’s going on. Unfortunately, you tend not to be alerted to danger by a lack of alertness.
What can you do about carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is very hazardous so it’s vitally important to ensure that things like gas heaters are properly ventilated. The experienced gas fitters at Jim’s Plumbing can do carbon monoxide testing to make sure everything’s OK. But if you really want peace of mind, you can constantly monitor CO levels with a carbon monoxide detector. There are various models on the market, some of which are hard-wired. Jim’s can easily arrange for these to be fitted if need be. You can even get combination smoke alarm and CO detectors.
What are the signs of appliances emitting CO?
As long as your gas heater has been properly installed and isn’t very old, there isn’t a great deal to worry about. Watch out for gas flames burning orange, which is a sign that the appliance isn’t burning properly and is likely to be producing more CO than usual. Get the appliance serviced. The CO levels may be creeping up and it’s better to be safe than sorry. This particularly applies to unflued gas heaters that have to rely on indirect ventilation. Get on to Jim’s and we’ll make sure everything passes muster.
Keep the outdoors outside
But most of the serious CO poisoning incidents you hear about involve using outdoor appliances inside, such as patio heaters and BBQs. These are clearly not designed to be used inside and rely on open air ventilation. Don’t use outdoor heaters inside! There are other sources too, such as leaving the car running in an attached carport and the CO leaking into the house. Fresh air is more important than you might have thought.