Carbon Monoxide (CO) Protection in Building Habitable Spaces

2011-01-13:  Carbon Monoxide (CO) is an odourless, colourless and toxic gas.  Because it is impossible to see, taste or smell the toxic fumes, CO can kill you before you are aware it is in your home.  At lower levels of exposure, CO causes mild harmful effects which are often mistaken for the flu (influenza).  These symptoms include headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and fatigue.  The effects of CO Exposure can vary greatly from person to person depending on age, overall health and the concentration and length of exposure.  Source: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), USA.

Recent tragic deaths from CO Poisoning have occurred in Ireland … not only in the home, but also in a hotel.

Sources of Carbon Monoxide (CO) … unvented kerosene and gas space heaters; leaking chimneys and furnaces; back-drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces; gas stoves; generators and other gasoline powered equipment; automobile exhaust from attached garages; and tobacco smoke.  Incomplete oxidation during combustion in gas ranges and unvented gas or kerosene heaters may cause high concentrations of CO in indoor air.  Worn or poorly adjusted and maintained combustion devices (e.g., boilers, furnaces) can be significant sources, or if the flue is improperly sized, blocked, disconnected, or is leaking.  Car, truck, or bus exhaust from attached garages, nearby roads, or parking areas can also be a source.  Source: EPA, USA.

 

If there is a fuel burning / heat-producing appliance in any habitable space, in any building … and if you have not done so already … you must do something NOW to check that you are protected effectively from CO Poisoning.  Shift your ass !

In order to improve energy conservation and efficiency in buildings … direct, natural ventilation from the exterior is still being actively discouraged … and buildings are becoming more tightly sealed, during construction or major refurbishment, to prevent unintended air seepage.  Generally, this has been causing a serious increase in Building Related Ill-Health (also known as ‘Sick Building Syndrome’) … much of which is still going un-reported.

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BRIEF CHECKLIST – IMMEDIATE ATTENTION

1.  Check that there is sufficient, clear, direct natural ventilation in any habitable space which contains a fuel burning / heat-producing appliance.  Next … Check that the terminal unit / outlet of the flue coming from that appliance is not blocked.  Then … Check the route of any flue from the appliance.  If, for example, a flue passes through another habitable space … that space must also be properly ventilated.

2.  Check that all fuel burning / heat-producing appliances are ‘fit for their intended use’ (this must be shown !), are working properly … and that they are regularly serviced by people who are competent to do so.  Paperwork is not a reliable indicator of competence !   Remember the problems with FÁS !?!

3.  Do not confuse Carbon Monoxide Detectors with Smoke Detectors !   Only install a dedicated Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector for the task of detecting Carbon Monoxide.  And … that Detector must be shown to be ‘fit for its intended use’.  Read the writing on the outside of the box carefully … and then read all of the instructions inside the box !

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With regard to the issue of Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning in Ireland … Statistics Gathering is not reliable.  National Legislation concerning the installation of Carbon Monoxide Detectors in buildings should have been introduced many years ago … but this has not yet happened.  Furthermore … don’t hold your breath waiting for this much-needed legislation.  Based on past performance, technical and administrative officials in our relevant authority having jurisdiction, i.e. the Department of Environment, Heritage & Local Government (DEHLG), will prefer to wait before acting until similar legislation is introduced in Britain (England & Wales).

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I will just describe what I have done in my own house … in the kitchen …

[Smoke Detectors are separately linked into a monitored security and fire warning system.]

In every room where a fuel burning / heat-producing appliance is located … a Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector is installed.  In the kitchen, for example, the Detector is fixed on the wall … at about head height, when sitting down at a table (appropriate for the normal pattern of use there) … and at a distance of approximately 2 metres from the natural gas kitchen range.  Control of direct, natural ventilation to the appliance is active … meaning, it always receives attention.  The usual kitchen clutter, e.g. clothes ‘waiting’ for ironing, etc., is never allowed to cover or block the Detector.  Everybody in the house understands the purpose of this product.

Colour photograph showing a battery-operated Ei Electronics Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector, Model Ei206D, fixed (tamper proof) to the kitchen wall. Two of the hanging decorative plates are from France and Turkey. As for the third plate ... does anyone remember the Willow Pattern ? Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2011-01-12. Click to enlarge.

Colour photograph showing a battery-operated Ei Electronics Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector, Model Ei206D, fixed (tamper proof) to the kitchen wall. Two of the hanging decorative plates are from France and Turkey. As for the third plate ... does anyone remember the Willow Pattern ? Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2011-01-12. Click to enlarge.

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About the performance of the Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector in the event of a ‘real’ CO Leakage … I am comfortably assured, as I have known the EI Company in Shannon since the mid-1980’s.  At that time, I was the first architect in Ireland to install smoke detectors in any local authority housing scheme … and EI gave great technical back up and support, for which I am still very grateful.  I might add that those same smoke detectors were installed against the wishes of the local fire department.  A report on the whole test installation process was later presented, by Dr. M. Byrne, Engineering Manager of EI, to an International Fire Conference in Dublin.

The particular Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector shown in the photograph above is a battery-operated Model Ei206D.  There are no heavy, smoke sealed fire-resisting doorsets in the house … so the sound level of the distinct alarm / warning signal [85 dB(A) minimum at 3 metres] is more than adequate.  A few years ago, this was an expensive item to buy !   Now, however, CO Detectors are widely available … and at a more reasonable price.

Very Importantly … Ei Electronics have also developed a range of products – Solutions for All – which are suitable for use by People with Activity Limitationshttp://www.eielectronics.com/ei-electronics/special-needs

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Harmful Health Effects Associated with Carbon Monoxide (CO) Inhalation … at low concentrations: fatigue in healthy people and chest pain in people with heart disease.  At higher concentrations: impaired vision and co-ordination; headaches; dizziness; confusion; nausea.  Can cause flu-like symptoms which clear up after leaving home.  Fatal at very high concentrations.  Acute effects are due to the formation of Carboxyhaemoglobin (COHb) in the blood, which inhibits oxygen intake.  At moderate concentrations: angina, impaired vision, and reduced brain function may result.  At higher concentrations: CO Exposure can be fatal.  Source: EPA, USA.

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Health Service Executive (Ireland) Factsheet

January 2011

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning – A Guide for GP’s & Other Medical Professionals

Click the Link Above to read and/or download PDF File (375kb)

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1 Comment to Carbon Monoxide (CO) Protection in Building Habitable Spaces

  1. This is a very interesting article and very topical. You have clearly explained the situation, identifying risk, etc. The only problem is getting such information out there into the public domain – every household should have detectors.

  2. therese on January 26th, 2011

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