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Carbon Monoxide Production By Gas Heaters

Winter is around the corner, and there can't be a better time for us to remind ourselves of the potential risk associated with carbon monoxide exposure. This can occur due to faulty or unflued gas heaters or any other type of device that makes use of gas.

Carbon monoxide is odourless, colourless, and tasteless. These characteristics make it difficult to detect it when there is a leakage. The gas is a resultant product of the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels.

In a domestic environment, the sources from which carbon monoxide may occur include gas heaters with or without flues, as well as infiltration of car exhaust fumes from adjacent garages.

Where there is emission in an enclosed and unventilated domestic space, it can lead to fatalities, hospitalisations, and eventually death if adequate care and attention are not given.

Effects Of Exposure To Carbon Monoxide

With regards to mass, carbon monoxide is the most abundant of all gaseous pollutants in the atmosphere.

Many of the different gas heaters people use at home to heat their indoor spaces work by combusting gas. When gas is burned, different types of gaseous by-products are released, some of which are terrible pollutants.

Gases can easily reach hazardous levels if they are not flued to the outside of the house through a pipe or by a functional mechanism. It is also possible to experience this if the heater is faulty, old or if a building is not adequately ventilated.

When carbon monoxide is present at elevated levels, it can diffuse quickly into the blood and bind with haemoglobin in it to form carboxyhaemoglobin. This process lowers the capacity of the blood to carry oxygen needed by our tissues for the sustenance of life.

It is not clear what the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning are at low concentrations. However, when there is a high concentration of carbon monoxide, it can cause unconsciousness in the victim and, ultimately, death. Its fatality rate is relatively high because death occurs in a matter of minutes.

Who Is At Risk Of Carbon Monoxide Exposure?

Every living creature that depends on oxygen for survival is at risk when exposed to carbon monoxide. This includes people and pets. Older persons and chronically ill people are at greater risk and must be protected at all costs.

People can become exposed to carbon monoxide because of a blockage or fault in a gas heater or decorative log fire. You can lower this risk by servicing your heater regularly.

Carbon monoxide is a non-irritating gas, and its presence may never be detected. This makes it quite dangerous as poisonous gas. Several people, including animals, have lost their lives due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Where death did not occur, severe damage to the brain or some other important organs in the body may result.

The death toll as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning outnumbers the total number of deaths that have resulted from other types of poisons. All safety protocols need to be observed when installing indoor or outdoor gas appliances to prevent carbon monoxide fatalities.

Although there may still be some leakage of gases even after following or going through the installation safety checklist, with proper maintenance, only low amounts of carbon monoxide may leak from gas heaters.

Where complete combustion occurs, there is little to no chance of carbon monoxide poisoning, so there will be no room for the accumulation of air pollutants like nitrogen dioxide.

Fatal incidents have occurred as a result of nitrogen dioxide poisoning. The gas is highly toxic even when present in low concentrations. It can cause respiratory irritation, headache, sore throat, and cough. Some amount of the gas is usually produced when there is a burning flame, although the exact quantity depends on the type of heater being used.

How To Minimise Carbon Monoxide Exposure

If you are running a gas heater or any other device that produces carbon monoxide, exercise a lot of caution. Also, learn gas heater safety tips that can help you minimise exposure to carbon monoxide.

Fact sheets have been produced to teach the public how to handle gas heaters and the potential risk of exposure to carbon monoxide poisoning.

The following are some simple steps you can take to protect your household against carbon monoxide poisoning:

• Request for a carbon monoxide leakage test from an expert.

• Have your gas heaters checked every few years by licensed gas fitters and request a compliance certificate.

• Ensure there is fresh air intake from time to time in every space of the home.

• Avoid using a gas heater overnight or for long periods.

• Do not run heaters and exhaust fans at the same time. When exhaust fans are used in the kitchen or bathroom, it can lead to a hostile pressure environment causing gas heater emissions to be sucked back into the house.

• Consider installing a carbon monoxide alarm as an additional safety measure.

• Never use an unflued heater in a bedroom. Also, minimise your use of unflued heaters.

• Replace old heaters.

Prevalence Of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning In Australia

Studies on unflued gas heater emissions have been conducted in some Australian homes where carbon monoxide was measured. They revealed that there were only a few houses where elevated levels of carbon monoxide occurred, but these were homes with unflued gas heaters.

In a more recent study involving 40 homes, lower carbon monoxide levels were reported compared to previous ones. However, in the latter case, tests were not based on gas heater usage.

Carbon monoxide concentrations readily rise and, being an odourless gas, elevated levels have led to accidental death in Australia in the past few years. These deaths have been linked to exposure to emissions from faulty gas appliances or insufficient ventilation of rooms and unflued gas heating systems.

Symptoms Of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

While a leak of carbon monoxide gas may not be easily detected, several signs may signal its presence in the atmosphere. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include; dizziness, loss of consciousness, headache, and nausea. Unfortunately, some people mistake this for flu.

The most susceptible people include children, people with respiratory issues, pregnant women, and their unborn babies.

Important Issues To Note About Gas Heaters

Having a heater at home is a matter of necessity and cannot be trivialised. This is particularly true for temperate regions where winters can be quite cold. If you have a gas heater like most homes do, you want to avoid the frustration that comes with a gas heater leaking dangerous gases.

There are different brands to pick from when it comes to choosing a heater for your home. If it can generate enough heat and has all the safety measures, it is worth buying.

Any gas heater is a potential source of carbon monoxide leakage in a home. So whatever type you are using, be it a wall furnace, space heater, central heating unit, and decorative appliances like decorative log fires, note that none is leak-proof.

Since symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are not specific and frequently occur due to other types of common conditions, carbon monoxide poisoning may not be considered as a possible cause. Therefore, patients may be sent home without receiving the correct type of treatment, and serious consequences may follow.

The source of carbon monoxide leakage may be in your car, home, workplace, or caravans. At home, familiar sources include malfunctioning gas heating and cooking appliances.

It is essential to have all gas heaters and decorative log fires serviced at a minimum of every two years. Hire a registered or licensed gasfitter. The professional you hire needs to have an endorsement to cater to type A gas appliances. It is part of their duty to check the installation and conduct a test for carbon monoxide leakage.

With an open flue gas heater, indoor levels of carbon monoxide may rise under certain conditions. Insufficient room ventilation coupled with kitchen or bathroom exhaust fans can draw unsafe levels of carbon monoxide into the living area. The risk is greater with a blocked flue or faulty heater.

Why Is It Necessary To Hire A Professional?

It is alright to take charge of the appliances at home when they have a fault. There are lots of DIY videos online you can use to help you find the right solution. However, this is not always the best approach, especially when handling a sensitive issue like this that can cause death.

Hiring a gas fitter would save you lots of heartaches. For one, repairing a faulty gas heater may not be your call unless you are trained in that line. Failure to let trained hands handle your heater may cause irreparable damage. When a licensed gasfitter handles your gas heater, rest assured that they will properly handle the task.