How to test for carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a highly toxic and flammable gas produced by burning fuel in conditions where there is not enough oxygen for proper combustion. Any fuel burning appliance in your home, such as ordinary heating and cooking equipment, are potential sources of dangerous levels of CO. 

The main problem with this widely available gas is its odourless and colourless nature. For this reason, it has gained an awful reputation as a silent killer, quietly sneaking up and taking the lives of many people around the world. Most cases of accidental exposure to carbon monoxide are preventable, but the signs and symptoms are nonspecific and often lead to misdiagnosis.

It is crucial to take the proper precautions when installing and operating fuel burning appliances, and watch out for any signs of leakages in order to avoid exposure.  Learn how our plumbers test for carbon monoxide as part our gas safety check process.

 

Signs of Carbon Monoxide Leakage

There is no olfactory sign to recognise a carbon monoxide leakage. For that reason, one must pay attention to other signs. If you notice a decreased hot water supply, furnaces unable to heat or running continuously, or an unfamiliar burning odour in your home, it is best to assume that there is a leakage in a fuel burning appliance and call a professional technician immediately to inspect and diagnose the situation. This is especially true when you also observe the following: 

Stains around your gas and other fuel burning appliances 

Finding soot in the fireplace or around the service door of your fuel burning appliances, streaks of carbon, excessive rusting on pipes and appliance jackets, or damaged or discoloured bricks at the top of your chimney is very common. Stains on walls or ceilings near any appliance that works by burning gas, charcoal or wood indicate that there are carbon monoxide emissions. Proper ventilation near these appliances will allow for fresh air to naturally clear dangerous levels of CO.

Yellow or orange flames on a gas stovetop instead of blue flame

The flame in stove tops and furnaces, and in the pilot light of gas powered appliances, is blue with a yellow tip in normal conditions. When you notice a red, yellow or orange flame, it is an indication of an abnormal level of oxygen. An insufficient amount of oxygen for combustion can lead to the release of carbon monoxide.

Dripping or heavy condensation on the windows

Look out for moisture collected on windows and walls of furnace rooms, as well as small amounts of water leaking from the base of chimneys, vents or fuel pipes. 

Different Ways to Test for Carbon Monoxide

At Plumbelec Inspections, we analyse the quality of your indoor air and take immediate action if there are any safety concerns for your rental property. Reach out to us if you notice any signs of a carbon monoxide leakage, or for regular maintenance as required by law. In accordance with the Residential Tenancy Act, all rental properties in Victoria are required to have a gas safety check. We will check your main gas line, service all gas appliances and, of course, test for carbon monoxide. Energy Safe Victoria states that this is required to be done every two years by a licensed gas fitter. Upon completion, we will provide a digital audit report.

Side effects of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The inhalation of carbon monoxide displaces oxygen from your bloodstream and produces a toxic compound in your body called carboxyhemoglobin (COHb). This deprives the heart and brain of the oxygen necessary to function. Symptoms in an average, healthy adult vary depending on the concentration of carbon monoxide, as the COHb levels rise and oxygen levels decrease. That is why the side effects are measured from mild to extreme exposure:

Mild exposure

Many cases of reported carbon monoxide poisoning are misdiagnosed because the symptoms of mild exposure are similar to that of the flu. Slight headaches, nausea, vomiting and fatigue can be a sign of inhalation of low levels of carbon monoxide. Young children and pets are typically the first to show symptoms. Ongoing exposure to low levels is still dangerous and can lead to collapse and unconsciousness. 

Medium exposure

Higher levels of carbon monoxide inside your home will cause stronger headaches combined with drowsiness, confusion and an accelerating heart rate. In many cases, victims of carbon monoxide poisoning are reported to be aware of their symptoms but unable to exit the building or call for assistance due to feeling disoriented. The risk of unconsciousness and danger of death in such cases is higher and faster.

Extreme exposure

Exposure to extreme levels of carbon monoxide produces immediate and serious physiological effects, such as unconsciousness, convulsions and cardiorespiratory failure. The danger of death arises quickly, from 1 to 10 minutes after exposure. 

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How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Buildup?

Proper ventilation in your home should provide enough oxygen in the indoor air to allow for complete combustion in fuel burning appliances, reducing the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. When appliances and vents are regularly maintained and in optimal working conditions, the trace amounts of carbon monoxide released are typically not dangerous, as they are safely vented outside. 

The production of carbon monoxide in enclosed or partially enclosed spaces leads to the buildup of this toxic gas over time, decreasing oxygen levels. Ventilation is essential to give fuel burning appliances enough oxygen for complete combustion, and exchange the indoor air with fresh air to maintain safe oxygen levels. Stoves, furnaces, ovens and other appliances that burn fossil fuels must be properly installed and regularly maintained to ensure they are adequately ventilated and burning properly. The use of alternative sources of power for heating and cooking purposes during power outages, as well as charcoal grills used indoors during the cold months, can cause carbon monoxide to build up in a home or garage. 

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All your gas appliances should be regularly inspected by a licenced gas fitter with practical knowledge of their proper operation, installation and ventilation. Thorough inspection of chimneys, vents and fuel burning appliances is critical to recognise potential dangers.
Contact Plumbelec Inspections for a gas safety check today of your home to ensure you are protected. 

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