Across the world, many people suffer ill health and tragically some actually die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by gas appliances and flues which have not been properly installed or maintained. Although the frequency is not as high in New Zealand as it is in colder climates, the risks exist and are just as great.
When gas does not burn properly, as with other fuels such as coal, wood or oil, excess carbon monoxide is produced, which is poisonous.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odourless, colourless, tasteless gas, but it can kill without warning in just a matter of hours.
You are particularly at risk when you are asleep because you cannot recognise the early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning that include tiredness, drowsiness, headache, nausea, pains in the chest and stomach pains.
These symptoms can mimic many common ailments and may easily be confused with flu or simple tiredness.
If you or your family experience the above symptoms, and you believe carbon monoxide may be involved, you must seek urgent medical advice. Your doctor will need to test a blood or breath sample. Carbon monoxide quickly leaves the blood and tests may be inaccurate if taken more than four hours after exposure has ended. You are at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning if:
Your appliance was poorly installed.
Your appliance is not working properly.
Your appliance has not been checked for safety or maintained regularly.
There is not enough fresh air in the room.
Your chimney or flue gets blocked up.
You allow a person other than a licensed gasfitter to install or maintain your appliance(s).
There is a particular risk if you sleep in a room that has a portable flue-less appliance left burning at night. Flued appliances are typically those that are permanently fixed to a wall where the products of combustion are exhausted through a flue up a chimney or directly outside through a wall.
NEVER use a gas appliance if you think it is not working properly. Signs to look out for include yellow or orange flames (except for fuel-effect fires which display this colour flame), soot or stains around the appliance and pilot lights which frequently blow out.
NEVER cover an appliance or block the convection air vents.
NEVER block or obstruct any fixed ventilation grilles or air bricks.
NEVER block or cover outside flues.
CAUTION Whenever draught exclusion, ceiling or extraction fans, double glazing or conservatory extensions are fitted to a room containing a gas appliance, the appliance should subsequently be checked for safety.
ALL gas consumers are advised to have appliances checked for safety at least every 12 months by a licensed gasfitter.
CARBON MONOXIDE ALARMS are a useful precaution but must NOT be considered a substitute for proper installation and maintenance of gas equipment by a licensed gasfitter. If you decide to buy a carbon monoxide alarm, you should seek advice from a recognised installer who will ensure that it meets current safety standards. When determining where best to position your gas appliances, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
If you suspect there is a carbon monoxide leak, you should immediately:
Open all doors and windows.
Turn off the gas supply at the isolation valve. If you have any problems turning off the supply contact GasNet on 0800 349 2050.
Make sure that any investigations or repairs are carried out by a licensed gasfitter.