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Dublin: 13°C Tuesday 20 October 2020

9 common mistakes putting you at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning - and how to avoid them

From blocking vents to running your car in a closed garage, watch out for these common dangers.

Image: Shutterstock/Photographee.eu

MOST OF US could easily point out most safety issues around our own homes – a sharp object left out, a broken stair step, or a blanket too close to an open flame. When it comes to the threat of carbon monoxide, however, the signs are less obvious and can therefore be quite dangerous. 

Whether you’ve covered a vent to prevent a draughty breeze during the winter months, or you haven’t had your chimney swept in years, there are quite a few ways you could be putting yourself and your family at risk of deadly carbon monoxide poisoning. The good news is that each of these mistakes is easily remedied – and we’ll explain how. 

Darren O’Keeffe of health and safety consultancy firm The Chris Mee Group, explained that whenever combustion is happening – like when you have a fire burning or boiler running – oxygen is used and carbon monoxide is created. Too much carbon monoxide in your home or room means that your blood won’t able to take up oxygen, which can quickly result in carbon monoxide poisoning. 

With the winter upon us, it’s important to be even more mindful of these common household mistakes that could put you in danger. 

1. You could be blocking ventilation

O’Keeffe was clear about the danger of blocking or covering air vents, especially in a room with a heat source or gas appliance. “If your room has been designed to have air vents, make sure you don’t block them,” he explains, adding:

People think oh, there’s cold air, we’ll close them up. But they’re there to make sure there’s enough good supply of oxygen for the combustion.

2. You haven’t hired the right person to fix your heating appliance

Most homeowners would probably seek out a plumber or electrician to fix a problem with a boiler or heating appliance, or perhaps even ask a local handyman. However, regulations require that you need to hire a registered gas installer (RGI) to install, maintain or repair a gas heating appliance, explained O’Keeffe: “You can’t have an ordinary plumber or electrician fiddle with a gas appliance.” 

shutterstock_1071853316 Source: Shutterstock/Bilanol

3. You don’t have your chimney swept regularly

According to O’Keeffe, having your chimney swept regularly is critical to ensuring that carbon monoxide isn’t getting trapped in your sitting room while you’re sitting in front of a cosy fire. 

If it’s an open fire or has a stove going into it, important that it’s free and not choked up.

4. You run your lawnmower or car in a closed garage

With the winter months approaching, it might be tempting to shut the garage door while you work on a lawnmower or even let the car run to warm it up before getting in. However, O’Keeffe offered the reminder that “any running engine consumes oxygen and produces carbon monoxide.” Not running engine powered equipment inside, even with the door open, is a safe rule of thumb to enforce. 

5. You use a paraffin or kerosene heater in a closed room

Older people are usually more likely to be using a paraffin or kerosene heater, which can produce deadly carbon monoxide. O’Keeffe explained:

These heaters were used before the days of central heating, so an elderly person who has had one for donkeys years and is quite attached to it could be in danger of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Ensuring there is proper ventilation to the space where the heater is being used can help prevent problems. 

6. You installed a feature fireplace yourself

Homeowners can get themselves into trouble if they try to install a heating appliance without an approved professional. Installing a feature fireplace might seem like an easy DIY project because it doesn’t require connecting to the gas mains, but any project involving heating or combustion needs to be checked by an a professional who is approved for that fuel type – for instance, an RGI for a gas heater, an Oftec Registered Oil Technician for oil appliances, and a competent solid-fuel technician for solid fuel appliances.

7. You use the gas rings on the hob to heat your kitchen.

“Occasionally, someone’s central heating packs up and they might be inclined to use gas rings to heat the room,” said O’Keeffe, but this can pose problems because your kitchen isn’t adequately ventilated to accommodate the extra carbon monoxide created from the open flame burning. In general, using a cooking appliance to heat a room is a dangerous decision. 

shutterstock_1374152258 Source: Shutterstock/Ivanna Pavliuk

8. You haven’t had your fuel-burning appliances serviced

Most people don’t think twice about their fuel-burning appliances until they break, but the safest practice is to get them serviced annually by a registered gas installer. According to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Irleand (SEAI), having your boiler serviced regularly could make it more efficient and lead to energy savings – as well as keep you safe from carbon monoxide poisoning. 

9. And, you don’t have a carbon monoxide alarm

For added protection, you can fit your home with a carbon monoxide detector, which can alert you if there is too much carbon monoxide in the air so that you can rectify the problem. A carbon monoxide alarm can be purchased at most hardware stores and installed by any adult fairly easily.

Carbon monoxide is highly dangerous. You can’t see it or smell it, but you can protect yourself and your family by taking the right precautions – including installing a carbon monoxide alarm. Learn more about what you can do to stay safe on carbonmonoxide.ie.

Sponsored by:

Gas Networks Ireland

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