Carbon monoxide

All You Need to Know about Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is an odourless and colourless gas that is produced when things aren’t fully burnt. We are all aware in this age of global warming that carbon dioxide is what you get when you burn coal. We are less aware that incomplete combustion results in carbon monoxide. Carbon dioxide gets all the bad publicity as the greenhouse gas behind climate change, but, as the sceptics like to point out, carbon dioxide is not poisonous and is vital for plant growth. You breathe it in all the time. Carbon monoxide (CO), however, is a different matter. It’s deadly.

Why is carbon monoxide dangerous?

At some point, you have probably heard of haemoglobin. It’s the part of red blood cells that picks up oxygen from your lungs. It’s one of those things that keep you alive. But it is just as good at picking up carbon monoxide, which unfortunately doesn’t keep you alive. Continual exposure to CO results in headaches and nausea, among several other unpleasant side effects. The most unpleasant side effect of too much of it is death. The simple answer to the question ‘why is CO dangerous?’ is that it kills you.

What causes carbon monoxide poisoning?

The biggest culprit in cases of CO poisoning is unflued or poorly flued gas heaters. The principal reason why you can’t use one of those gas patio heaters inside is that they are designed to be used outside where the dangerous gases can easily disperse. Bringing them inside is a recipe for disaster because the CO is trapped and builds up to levels that can be fatal. Most gas heaters in Australian homes are flued and perfectly safe, although as they age it is probably a good idea to have them checked.

Check gas heaters

It’s essential to check gas heaters that are open-flued. Open-flued means that they have no chimney or flue to the outside of the house. After a death in Victoria, some models of open-flued gas heaters were withdrawn from sale and the State Coroner recommended that all open-flued gas heaters should be banned. Modern houses are more airtight than they used to be and when this is combined with exhaust fans that draw the CO from the heater into the house, levels can get dangerous.

Test case

Carbon monoxide testing is well worth doing if you are installing or servicing any gas appliance. Take the famous case of the Australian Open champion Vitas Gerulaitus. He was only 40 when he died of carbon monoxide poisoning while sleeping in the guesthouse of a friend in 1994. The gas had come from a pool heater that hadn’t been installed properly. Charges of negligent homicide were brought against the installer and his company. It was argued that a slightly longer exhaust pipe may have saved the tennis champion’s life. But the jury accepted that the CO could have still been drawn into an air conditioning vent despite this and acquitted them.

All new appliances should undergo gas appliance commissioning, where they are tested to ensure there are no leaks, they are well-ventilated, gas pressure has been set correctly, and more.

A serious headache

Carbon monoxide clearly needs to be checked if you are in need of gas fitting installations or have existing gas appliances and heaters. Metropolitan Plumbing has the expertise to do this for you, and not only give you peace of mind, but save you from a truly serious headache.

Published: 20 Feb, 2020

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