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By Emily France, Creative Content Curator | Safety Supplier @rapidfiresupplies | People Person | Theatre Type & Arts Supporter.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Alarms 101: Why do I need a CO alarm?

Carbon monoxide is known as ‘the silent killer’. It gained this name because we can neither see, smell nor taste this flammable gas. Each year approximately 50 deaths and hundreds of short and long-term injuries are caused by accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in the UK. Therefore, it is essential to install a carbon monoxide detector in your home or workplace as it could save your life.

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a simple molecule; one part carbon and one part oxygen and can be recognised in shorthand by its formula CO. The positive oxygen binds with the negatively charged carbon. The structure can be drawn out like this:

Molecule diagram of CO in blue and orange

Carbon monoxide is produced as a biproduct when carbon-based fuels such as gas, oil, wood and coal are burnt using a limited amount of air and can have detrimental effects.

Carbon based fuels are usually safe to use when burnt in an open and efficiently ventilated area, it is only when the fuel is not burnt properly that CO is produced. Common household causes are often attributed to BBQ’s, gas cookers and boilers, wood and coal burners, lack of chimney maintenance, portable heaters using petroleum gas and car engines.

Why is CO dangerous?

When Carbon monoxide is breathed in, it passes into the red blood cells. Due to its structure, CO is able to bind more strongly to the haemoglobin than oxygen can, forming carboxyhaemoglobin. This leaves the blood with less room to carry oxygen around the body. A lack of circulating oxygen causes the body’s cells and tissues to fail and die. An over-exposure to carbon monoxide can lead to myriad symptoms and even result in death.

What are the symptoms of CO poisoning?

The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are varied and can be hard to distinguish particularly if there is only a low exposure. The main symptoms to look out for are:

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Tiredness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stomach pain

Many of the symptoms are similar to that of the flu however CO poisoning will not cause a high temperature to occur. Babies, pregnant people and people suffering from chronic heart diseases or respiratory problems e.g. asthma are more at risk to CO poisoning. No matter who you are, the longer the exposure to the gas the more advanced the symptoms will become, sometimes resulting in unconsciousness or death.

Therefore, it is essential to notice the effects of CO poisoning, evacuate the space and seek medical advice as soon as possible.

Installing a CO alarm will alert you of dangerous levels prior to any symptoms affecting your body. A carbon monoxide alarm could save your life. 

Carbon monoxide (CO) alarms 101: How does a carbon monoxide detector work?

A carbon monoxide detector may trigger it’s alarm using three different methods. Each type is reliable and effective, the one you decide to install in your home or workplace is based on budget and personal choice.

AICO Radio link CO alarm in blue packaging

This CARBON MONOXIDE ALARM senses carbon monoxide using an electrochemical sensor.

Electrodes inside a chemical solution can sense changes in electrical currents when they encounter carbon monoxide.

These changes triggers the alarm to sound.

Biomimetic sensors are fitted with a gel that contains haemoglobin. When carbon monoxide is present the gel changes to a darker colour. This colour change triggers the alarm to go off.

Metal oxide semiconductor’s use the technology of computer chips to detect CO. When the chip’s circuitry detects carbon monoxide, it lowers the electrical resistance. This change triggers the alarm.

When purchasing your alarm look out for properly certified manufactures and check that the device has appropriate approvals. The EN standards BS EN 50291-1:2010 / BS EN 50291-2:2010 / KM 86596 inform the user that the detector has been safely tested, developed and is qualified to European Standards.

Where should I place my carbon monoxide alarm?

There are 3 critical areas in the home where you should place a carbon monoxide detector.

Where should I place my CO alarm graphic with stairs, car and bed in blue & orange
  1. Outside all sleeping areas and bedrooms.
  2. One on each level of the house – including lofts and basements.
  3. Doors that lead to attached garages (especially if your car is kept there).

Ensure that you keep a high-level of maintenance for your detector; test it once a month, ensure the batteries are working and replace your sensor every few years – according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.

What should I do if my CO alarm is going off?

In short, evacuate the area as soon as possible. Gather any children or vulnerable people to ensure that they safely exit the area.  If you pass any doors or windows on your way out open them to provide ventilation and enable CO to escape the building – do not go out of your way to do this, only create air passages on your exit route. Once outside do not re-enter the building until the alarm has ceased or you have been advised to do so by a certified professional.

If any persons begin to experience one or more of the symptoms listed above, seek medical attention immediately by contacting an ambulance. The carbon monoxide alarm will continue to sound until the air is safely free of CO.

Get in touch!

If you have any queries about the importance of a carbon monoxide detector or need help purchasing from our website, do contact us via tel: 0333 0150 330 or email:, we are always happy to help.

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