How to keep your home gas safe
Household gas appliances, including boilers and gas ovens, are often used daily but can cause fires and carbon monoxide poisoning if they become faulty.
To raise awareness for Gas Safety Week, BOXT surveyed 2,000 people to discover how gas safe the UK public are. We have put together a guide for homeowners on how to keep their homes safe by preventing and recognising the signs of gas emergencies.
Smoke detectors are essential for preventing casualties in fires. However, a smoke alarm wasn't present for 24% of all dwelling fires in 2019/20, and a smoke alarm either didn't operate or raise the alarm for 31%.
To ensure your smoke alarms are working correctly, check them all once a week using the test button and change them every ten years. Depending on the manufacturer and model of the smoke alarm, change the batteries annually. However, you should replace the batteries immediately if the low battery warning alerts.
In the BOXT survey, just 11% of respondents tested their smoke and carbon monoxide alarms weekly, while 25.9% tested them monthly.
The placement of smoke alarms influences their effectiveness. Install the alarms in any room where there's a fire risk, on every level of the house. To accommodate rising smoke, install the alarms on the ceiling or high on the wall.
But don't place the alarms in bathrooms or kitchens; opt for a heat alarm in the kitchen instead, as the steam that emerges in these rooms can damage smoke alarms. Keep them away from doors, fans, and windows to stop draughts from blowing any smoke away from the detectors.
When choosing smoke alarms, opting for models with a ten year or long-lasting sealed battery reduces the frequency of battery changes. Ensure the smoke alarms have the current British Standards or European (CE) safety mark. Interconnect all smoke alarms, if they're compatible, so they all sound if one detects smoke to warn everybody inside the property.
Carbon monoxide alarms
Carbon monoxide is known as the silent killer because you can't see, smell, or taste the highly poisonous fumes. According to the NHS, 60 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning yearly across England and Wales. But a carbon monoxide detector can alert you to a leak so you can respond accordingly and escape the potentially life-threatening situation.
Yet, in the BOXT survey, 26.5% of Brits confessed to not having a carbon monoxide alarm installed in their current home.
If your home has a fuel-burning boiler, fire or stove, you should fit a carbon monoxide detector in every room where the fuel burns. However, homes that entirely run on electricity aren't required to install this detector.
In any room containing a fuel-burning appliance, fit alarms certified to British Standard EN50291 and have the British or European approval mark. Landlords are legally required to fit a carbon monoxide alarm in any room in a property utilised as living accommodation where solid fuels are combusted.
To ensure the alarms warn you against a carbon monoxide leak, keep the detectors in working condition by testing them a minimum of once a week. Also, if the batteries are replaceable, change them at least every six months.
In the survey, only a quarter of respondents claimed to check the carbon monoxide detectors monthly. Shockingly, 12.3% confessed to never checking the alarms, and another 7.8% didn't even know where their smoke and carbon monoxide alarms were.
What are the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning?
As well as installing a carbon monoxide alarm, it's also critical that you can recognise the symptoms of poisoning, which are often confused for the flu, food poisoning, and tiredness. However, unlike the flu, carbon monoxide poisoning doesn't cause a high temperature.
Carbon monoxide exposure can lead to symptoms including:
- Tension headaches
- Tiredness and confusion
- Stomach pain
The BOXT study revealed that only 25% of respondents would recognise the main symptoms. Another 23% said they would recognise the signs that an appliance isn't working correctly.
It's also important to look out for the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning around your home, such as:
- Soft yellow flames coming from gas appliances instead of blue flames.
- Pilot lights that frequently blow out.
- Sooty stains or discolouration on or around gas appliances.
- Increased condensation inside windows.
Worryingly, the survey found that 12.7% of respondents would have no idea what to do in the instance of a carbon monoxide leak.
A qualified engineer should check all the gas appliances in your property and conduct a boiler service annually to ensure they operate safely and effectively. These appliances could cause a dangerous gas leak, fires, explosions, and carbon monoxide poisoning if defective.
While just over half of those surveyed followed the advised yearly checks, 14.1% said they never checked their gas appliances.
Of those who hadn't had their gas appliances safety checked within the past year, 15.1% blamed COVID, as they no longer wanted people in their homes. Another 13.6% didn't know they needed to conduct these safety checks, and another 11.1% didn't think it was necessary. 8.8% of respondents couldn’t afford a yearly gas safety check.
Additional ways to maintain the quality of gas appliances include only using them for their intended purpose, e.g. not using an oven to heat a room and not blocking vents or chimneys.
Unlike carbon monoxide, gas leaks often create a noticeable scent. But it can also cause physical symptoms like dizziness, nausea, and headaches.
What to do if you suspect a gas or carbon monoxide leak
If you suspect a gas or carbon monoxide leak in your home, turn the gas off, open all the windows, and leave the property immediately to get fresh air. If anyone is showing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, get them outside and call 999 for an ambulance.
Call the 24 hour Gas Emergency Number on 0800 111 999 and don't return to your house until the source of the leak has been found and fixed by a gas safe registered professional.
Don't smoke, light a match, or use any form of naked flame. Don't turn any electrical switches on or off. Also, don't use doorbells, mobile phones, or any other electrical switches that could trigger a spark.
Andy Kerr, co-founder of BOXT says: "Carbon monoxide leaks are easy to miss if you don't have a working detector, as you can't see, smell, or taste the poisonous fumes.
"Every second counts after being exposed to carbon monoxide. So, you must be able to recognise the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning and know how to respond in the event of a leak.
"While gas and carbon monoxide poisonings are extremely serious, you can minimise the risk by conducting regular maintenance of gas appliances, smoke alarms, and carbon monoxide detectors. This safety takes little time and can save your life.
“Ensure you get your gas appliances checked by a Gas Safe registered engineer and check their Gas Safe ID card for reassurance of their qualifications.”
BOXT offers a range of smart systems, including boilers, for homes across the UK. Our ‘find a boiler’ tool helps users find the most suitable option by asking a few simple questions about their property. Engineers are also available to offer further advice on the live chat.
BOXT customers also have access to exclusive service plans in which Gas Safe registered engineers remind you to book your service a month before it’s due. The plan also spreads the cost of a boiler service and Gas Safe certificate over 12 months.
BOXT commissioned a survey of 2000 UK residents between August 25th to 27th 2021.