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Carbon monoxide alarms detect carbon monoxide gas (CO) and alert inhabitants so that they can leave the building. Carbon monoxide is tasteless, colourless, and odourless, so it is often referred to as the silent killer. Exposure can cause headaches, drowsiness, vomiting, chest pain, hallucinations, and eventually death, which is why CO alarms are such an important addition to homes or business premises with gas boilers.

CO gas is mainly produced through incomplete burning of gas – this process can happen in badly maintained or fitted gas boilers and fires, especially if a flue or chimney is blocked.

These alarms should be installed in every room that contains a boiler or gas fire – you can also install them in rooms where people sleep so that people have enough time to vacate the building when CO gas has built up. Install the alarm 1-3m from the potential CO gas source and at least 30cm from obstructions such as light fixtures. They can be installed on ceilings or on walls, but not above any windows or doors. Installing the alarm in the wrong place could cause false alarms or prevent it from going off when necessary.

Although there are combination smoke and carbon monoxide alarms on the market, it is important to check whether your alarm does both since these are not standard in the marketplace – typically, smoke or heat alarms and carbon monoxide alarms are separate products.

The latest health and safety standards require gas boilers to have inspection hatches at 1m intervals along the hidden flue. In some buildings (which are more than 10 years old) these have not yet been fitted, so gas engineers cannot properly inspect the flue for leaks or obstructions. In these cases, it’s incredibly important to install a carbon monoxide detector in the meantime as the risk of poisoning cannot be properly assessed.