It has been a while since I last wrote a post for this blog. but I was prompted to contribute after the last annual Gas Safety Week. This is an annual push by the Gas Safe Register to raise awareness of the benefits of regularly maintaining your gas appliances. Check out this website for more details:
This is all very common sense stuff. It is something of an irony that a rented property managed by the more assiduous type of landlord is a safer place in which to live than many people’s owner occupied homes. This is because your landlord is legally required to ensure that the appliances are tested annually to ensure their safe operation. As a tenant you should also have documentation (normally given to you by the inspecting Gas Safe Registered engineer) for your own records.
However, the main reason for me writing is about Carbon Monoxide detectors. These are a nice little piece of kit which add an additional level of confidence into the safety of your home and gas appliances. They are designed to howl loudly if they pick up on any Carbon Monoxide which may be leaking from your gas appliances – fire, boiler etc. However, they should NOT be used as any form of substitute for having your machines regularly maintained.
But here is my problem with them. Many people have them fitted but have little idea of how they work. So here we go:
The better quality ones have a battery that typically lasts 5 years. Once it starts failing it starts to beep. Many people start to panic at this point, thinking they have a Carbon Monoxide leak. Most oftentimes, they don’t. The battery is wearing out and it is trying to tell you to either replace the battery (if it can be) or replace the entire unit (not unusual). So how can you tell the difference between a failing battery and a genuine Carbon monoxide leak? This is not a silly question, since the chances are that the detector hasn’t activated once in its entire life. First of all, the noise level is the clue. As I mentioned earlier, if it is activated by the presence of CO, it howls, loudly and piercingly. If the battery is wearing out, it beeps.
The other clue, and this for me is the clincher, is the question of when it makes a noise. If there is no gas burning from your boiler, your fire, or even your gas hob, not to mention any other gas burning appliance you may have, then CO is not being produced. If the detector is making a noise in this situation, it is almost definitely the battery. There is the one in a tiniest fraction that it may possibly be coming from next door, but this is so rare as to be negligible. That said, if in doubt, have a word with your neighbours.
There have been a few occasions when I have been called to a job because the CO detector is going off, and I have been met with slightly hostile stares as though I am personally trying to kill the customer. I’m not, I swear. So I perform a CO safety test with my Flue Gas Analyser (if your Gas Man doesn’t have one, sack him and find someone else), and for good measure, where relevant perform other safety tests to make sure that CO is not coming back into the room and triggering the alarm.
I’m happy to report that to date, I have not once had a situation where a CO detector has been triggered by faulty appliances. It has always been the battery.
So, once again. if your CO detector is going off when no gas appliance is working at the time in your home, it isn’t your appliance that is faulty. Replace the battery or the entire unit first. It’s cheaper than calling me out in a panic thinking you are slowly being killed. If the new unit starts sounding, then by all means, please get in touch.
If you don’t have a CO detector in your home, you might want to consider it, especially if you fall into the “belts and braces” school of safety. However, if you have a flueless gas fire in your home I would regard having a CO detector as Essential. Even more important would be to make sure you have it serviced properly Every Year Without Fail. While you are at it, get the other appliances serviced as well. It does pay to make sure they are burning safely and optimally and having them maintained and serviced once a year makes sure of that, especially if your gas man is of the more conscientious variety. Like me.