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Make sure your biomass stove or boiler is not poisoning you

Posted by Laurence Jones on 6 February 2012 at 9:08 am

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas. It is produced by incomplete burning of carbon-based fuels. CO has no taste, smell or colour and can be present in the fumes (combustion products) of gas, oil, solid mineral fuel or biomass burning appliances.

If a biomass stove or boiler is correctly installed and properly maintained, the likelihood of exposure to dangerous levels of CO is minimal.

Protecting against carbon monoxide 

Using an appliance that is poorly maintained, incorrectly installed or using poor quality fuel will significantly increase the risk of the appliance producing carbon monoxide. To prevent that:

• Only buy appliances that comply with current British Standard.

• Have your appliances installed by a registered installer. Installers will ensure that work carried out complies with current Building Regulations.

• Have your appliance regularly maintained by a qualified engineer. Faulty appliances can lead to poor combustion which produces CO.

• Burn the correct fuel for the appliance. Make sure the wood is seasoned and dry. Unseasoned wet wood suppresses combustion yet produces products of combustion which contain CO.

• For a wood burning appliance, have your chimney swept by a professional at least twice a year.

• Make sure the appliance is set-up with sufficient combustion air to burn cleanly. Appliances with an incorrect fuel air mix can increase the rate of CO production.

• Make sure there is enough fresh air in the room where the appliance is installed. Some appliances require a fresh air vent in the room where they are located.

• A responsible landlord should provide proof that a solid fuel appliance has been serviced and the chimney recently swept before the start of a tenancy.

Symptoms 

These can be similar to many common ailments and may easily be confused with flu, viral infections, food poisoning, or simply tiredness or fatigue.

Symptoms include: headaches, collapse, breathlessness, stomach pains, nausea, erratic behaviour, dizziness, visual problems, loss of consciousness, tiredness, vomiting and drowsiness.

If you suspect a CO escape 

If you suspect fumes are escaping into your home, or your carbon monoxide alarm goes off:

• Where an appliance is automatically fed with fuel, turn it off.

• Open the doors and windows in your property and ventilate thoroughly.

• Leave the property immediately and don’t return until your appliance or boiler has extinguished and any CO has dispersed from the household.

• If you feel unwell, go to your doctor, call NHS Direct on 0845 4647 or, if urgent, phone 999 for an ambulance. Mention that your symptoms may be related to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Before you use the appliance again, have it inspected and the chimney checked by a qualified engineer or approved chimney sweep. Do not use the appliance until you are told it is safe to do so.

Fit an Audible CO Alarm

As of October 2010, Building Regulations make it compulsory (in England & Wales) to fit a fixed audible alarm with each new or replacement solid fuel/biomass appliance. HETAS recommends that a CO alarm is installed to existing installations as well. Check the battery regularly and replace when necessary.

Photo by Peta Hopkins

About the author: Laurence Jones was marketing support officer at HETAS

If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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Comments

1 comments - read them below or add one

nnw49

nnw49Comment left on: 6 February 2012 at 4:59 pm

When doing the routine servicing of a wood-burning stove or boiler that is alight (e.g. cleaning the boiler tubes or removing the ash) it is worth having a door / window open to disperse any CO that it produced.

 I would concur with suggestion of having a audible CO alarm in the vicinity of the boiler / stove to alert of potential problems. They are not expensive and might save your life!

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