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Carbon monoxide alarm

Carbon Monoxide Alarms Explained

Carbon monoxide is a colourless, tasteless, odourless gas which can kill within minutes if the parts per million (ppm) is detected at a high enough concentration.

The gas is produced when fossil fuels such as natural gas and oil aren’t completely burnt and this can often occur in badly installed, poorly maintained and damaged boiler units.

Carbon Monoxide and the Human Body

Carbon monoxide is taken into the body as we inhale and without us knowing anything about it. When it reaches the lungs it binds with the red blood cells and travels around the body. Because the red blood cells are carrying carbon monoxide it means they can’t carry necessary oxygen and the body soon becomes oxygen depleted. It is at this stage that people start to feel the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning which, incidentally, include head aches, tiredness, dizzy spells and often nausea.

Combating Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

In addition to making sure your boiler is serviced on a regular basis and that new appliances are installed by certified professionals you can also safeguard against carbon monoxide poisoning with carbon monoxide alarms. There are two main types of carbon monoxide alarms – those with sealed units and those without.

Both types of alarm give a visual and audible warning when carbon monoxide is present. The sealed units cannot have their batteries changed and so once they stop working they are effectively useless. They are however guaranteed for 5 years and so are still worth their cost.

Choosing a Carbon Monoxide Alarm

There are a number of alarms available on the market although a few may not be as reliable as they need to be. It is important that the alarm you choose meets the following criteria:

  • It should have the Kite mark clearly shown. This is a guarantee that the model of alarm has been independently tested to meet the necessary standards
  • It should also meet one of the following quality standards – BS7860 or more commonly today EN50291. If it doesn’t then it shouldn’t be bought.

If you are only going to fit one carbon monoxide alarm then it is recommended that it is placed close to the sleeping area. The manufacturer’s fitting instructions will give a more detailed guide to the best place to position an alarm though and so they should be read first. Larger houses will probably benefit from more than one alarm especially if they are set over a number of floors.

Many people today are also buying spot detectors which simply change colour when higher than normal concentrations of carbon monoxide are detected. These detectors are small enough to have in each room of a house and can be discreetly placed on a wall out of normal eyesight. It is important to check them regularly though as they don’t make an audible sign like the more expensive alarms.


Carbon monoxide alarms are becoming more and more popular as people hear about the devastating effects that this undetectable gas can have. Most alarms are very reasonably priced and as mentioned above they are generally guaranteed for at least five years.

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