Stoves & the dangers of Carbon Monoxide

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a highly poisonous gas produced by burning carbon based fuels such as gas, coal, oil and wood. It has no taste, colour or odour and victims of Carbon Monoxide poisoning are generally unaware that they are being poisoned until they become very ill and are subsequently diagnosed with it – if they are lucky. In some instances every year Carbon Monoxide poisoning very quickly proves fatal for a number of its victims – some of them stove users. The problem is that many of the symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning are often mistaken for flue or food poisoning and include headaches, dizziness, fatigue and weakness, so they can tend to go unnoticed.

It is very important to everyone at The Stove Yard that all of our customers are fully aware of the potential risks of exposure to Carbon monoxide from operating wood burning and multi fuel stoves. These risks are dramatically increased under the following circumstances:

  • If a Carbon Monoxide detector has not been fitted
    From October 2010 it became a requirement of UK Building Regulations to fit a CO detector whenever a stove is installed.

  • If the stove is of poor quality – even if it is new
    Trading Standards through a high profile Government funded initiative in conjunction with the Stove Industry Alliance (of which The Stove Yard is a founding member) and Hetas, later this year is set to highlight the potential dangers of a proliferation of rogue non-CE tested stoves and stoves which purport to be CE tested and are clearly not, many of which are unfortunately available through a well known auction website.

  • If the stove is poorly installed and does not work correctly
    It is the householder’s legal responsibility to ensure that the stove installation complies with all local Building Regulations (see our section on Stove Installation). These regulations have developed over many years and have been written to ensure that stove installations are carried out in a safe and practical manner. The facts unfortunately confirm that if you install a stove yourself then you are potentially increasing the risks of your exposure to CO poisoning.

  • If the stove has not been regularly maintained and checked for safety
    These checks are simple and good manufacturers will provide a timescale and a list of items to check with instructions on how to replace any ‘consumable’ components.

  • If the chimney or flue becomes clogged or blocked
    This can happen much quicker than people realise if damp unseasoned wood or soot-producing bituminous coal has been regularly used. Clogging can also occur after continuous or regular long periods of ‘slumber’ or low overnight burning and, of course, if you don’t regularly sweep your flue.

  • If there is not enough ventilation and fresh air in the room
    Building Regulations set strict criteria about the ventilation requirements for stove installations. Since October 2010, even sub-5kW stoves require some form of fixed ventilation when fitted in houses built after 2008.

  • If the stove is operated in the same room as an extractor fan (eg. in a kitchen)
    This is not allowed under UK Building Regulations, and most stove manufacturers’ operating instructions, for the simple reason that as the stove’s fire dies down and the effectiveness of flue draught is reduced, the ‘pull’ of an extractor fan could potentially become stronger than the pull of the flue system resulting in smoke and deadly CO being drawn from the stove.

Fitting a compliant Carbon Monoxide detector will certainly go a long way to reducing the potential risks and even if you comply with all of the above, you should always remain aware of the symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning.