Safety: Watch out for danger signals of carbon monoxide

Monday sees the start of Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week, and while most of us are up to speed on what to do if we smell gas, what happens when there are no obvious signs of a poisonous and potentially fatal leak?

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 19th November 2011, 4:16 am

Carbon Monoxide (CO) remains the most common cause of fatal poisoning in Britain today, killing 50 people per year.

This colourless and odourless silent killer can be released by gas equipment that has either failed or has been damaged, preventing the fuel from burning properly.

As the weather begins to get brisker, more of us are beginning to think about reaching for the ‘on’ switch on our boilers, but after lying dormant for nearly six months, the possibility of a leak starts to rise.

This Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week, npower, which services and repairs boilers, is encouraging people to have their boiler professionally serviced in order to spot problems before they become a matter of life and death.

Having your boiler professionally serviced just once a year could significantly reduce the risk of CO poisoning, along with having a carbon monoxide alarm fitted.

Despite the warnings, results from an npower survey of 2,000 people discovered that two thirds of homeowners are failing to have their gas appliances serviced; in fact only half of homeowners are booking their boilers in for their annual check-up, even though a third of the UK’s boilers are over 10 years old. However, it’s not just boilers that are a potential hazard, cookers and gas fires are also being neglected.

Chris Thewlis, head of operations for npower, comments: “Carbon monoxide leaks can be difficult to spot. Older appliances are definitely more at risk from CO leaks as they are more likely to be inefficient and malfunction, wasting money and risking health. It’s particularly worrying that people are not booking in their annual services for their appliances, especially when the risk is so high.

“Millions of UK homes could be at risk of a CO leak. But with the help of a carbon monoxide alarm, people will be alerted to the fact that there is a problem and will be able to act. It’s not just big leaks that can be detrimental to health; smaller leaks, which emit lower levels of carbon monoxide, can cause serious damage to your health over time.

“Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week is about getting homeowners to understand the daily risks of CO poisoning and to show that by following a few simple steps such as regular services and a good quality carbon monoxide alarm, the risks of CO leaks can be greatly reduced.”

Carbon monoxide alarms from npower come pre-fitted with batteries so no installation or mains power is required.

The kite marked alarms, which are fully approved by all European standards, come with a six year guarantee and an automatic sensor adjustment with a continuous self-test function to ensure complete accuracy.

The CO alarm should be positioned in the same room as the gas appliance or boiler and replaced after six years.

Homeowners can also reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning by making sure their home is well ventilated and by looking out for signs of a leak, which can include discoloration around the edges of the gas appliance; if there’s a boiler, look out for a yellow rather than a blue flame and increased condensation.

npower advises that homeowners follow the following steps to help reduce the risk of carbon monoxide in their home:

Installation Ensure that your appliances have been professionally installed by a gas safe registered engineer.

Regular service Make sure your boiler is serviced at least once a year by a gas safe registered engineer who can test for damage or malfunctions. npower offers a thorough, 30 point gas boiler service and safety check. Appointments are available at evenings and weekends and can be made online.

Ventilation Ensure your house is well ventilated as carbon monoxide will be produced in greater quantities if flues and vents are blocked.

Carbon monoxide alarm Invest in a carbon monoxide alarm, which can detect the early signs of a leak and help you to deal with the problem quickly and effectively.

Look out for signs of a leak

Discolouring around the edge of your boiler

A yellow rather than blue flame

Increased condensation where the boiler is installed.


Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to a cold or flu and can include:

A headache

Feeling nauseous and dizzy

Feeling tired


Abdominal or chest pain

Shortness of breath

Some symptoms can occur a few days or even months after exposure to carbon monoxide, such as memory loss and problems with coordination, and anyone experiencing these symptoms should visit their doctor.

To make an appointment with an npower engineer, or to buy a carbon monoxide alarm, telephone 0845 070 4860 or visit