When you have a gas appliance in your home, maintaining a high level of safety is vitally important for keeping you and your family safe.
Gas fires are an attractive addition to your home and a great source of warmth but they also pose potential dangers if you ignore the necessary safety measures.
GAS SAFE REGISTERED ENGINEER
Most problems that can occur with a gas fire are as a result of poor or incorrect installation. If your gas fire is not installed in the correct location or has not been connected to your gas mains supply properly you will be at risk.
The Gas Safety Register is a database of fully qualified gas and heating technicians. It contains a list of engineers who have legal clearance to install and maintain gas appliances such as gas cookers, boilers and gas fires. The scheme used to be known as CORGI Registered.
You should never attempt to install a gas fire yourself. Before allowing your gas fire to be fitted you should check the heating engineer's credentials and Gas Safe ID card. If they cannot produce a valid Gas Safe ID card and you cannot find them on the Gas Safety Register then they may be fraudulent.
GAS SAFETY CERTIFICATES
Gas safety certificates are issued by Gas Safe engineers as proof that a gas appliance has been inspected and deemed safe to use. The gas safety certificate is important not only for safety purposes but also a requirement for home insurance - if something goes wrong with your gas fire and it was not installed by a Gas Safe engineer your insurance may be void meaning you aren't able to make a claim.
Landlords renting out their properties are required by law to get a new gas safety certificate every 12 months. If you are a homeowner you are not legally required to have a gas safety record but you should still get your gas fire checked annually by a Gas Safe registered engineer and ask them for any documents which show that you had the safety check done.
GAS FIRE SERVICING
For extra piece of mind you might want to get an annual gas fire service, not to be confused with the annual gas safety check - this is an additional service for those who want a more in-depth inspection of their gas fire.
During an annual gas fire service, the engineer should test that the gas fire is burning correctly, check the safety features and ensure the flue/chimney is free from blockages and debris. Some gas engineers will even clean your gas fire as part of the check.
Getting your gas fire regularly serviced will reassure you that your appliance is working safely and to its optimal efficiency. It is also worth noting that it may invalidate the warranty on your gas fire if you don't keep up to date with annual servicing.
Servicing your gas fire has the added benefit of highlighting any small issues before they become a more significant and costly problem which will save you money in the long run.
Remember that only Gas Safe Registered engineers can carry out gas fire servicing.
CARBON MONOXIDE - WHAT IS IT AND WHY IS IT DANGEROUS?
If you fire has not been installed correctly, is very old or has a serious fault it could produce carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a very dangerous, odourless and tasteless gas that is known as 'the silent killer'. Those exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide can die - around 60 accidental deaths a year, in England & Wales, are attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning.
PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS OF CO POISONING
Carbon monoxide (CO) combines with the haemoglobin in your blood preventing the transport of oxygen around your body - without oxygen your body cells and tissues die.
When exposed to lower levels of carbon monoxide, although not fatal it can make you feel unwell. Symptoms include:
Shortness of breath
Collapse/loss of consciousness
The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are somewhat similar to having the flu or food poisoning although you will not get a temperature with carbon monoxide poisoning. The longer you are exposed, the worse your symptoms will get. Another warning sign is if your symptoms disappear when you leave your home and if others in the house experience similar symptoms at the same time (including pets).
If you believe that you have a CO leak and you are experiencing the above symptoms:
Open your doors and windows to get as much fresh air in the house as possible.
Make sure any gas appliance is turned off.
Seek medical attention, the sooner the better, at your GP or hospital - they can test for CO poisoning and offer treatment depending on the severity of your symptoms.
SIGNS OF CARBON MONOXIDE LEAK IN YOUR HOME
Any of the following could be signs of a CO leak:
Yellow or orange flame instead of a crisp blue.
Dark sooty staining on or around your gas fire.
Increased condensation on your windows.
If you believe the leak is severe and there is immediate danger you should call the Gas Emergency Helpline on 0800 111 999 and leave the house. They will visit your property as soon as possible to investigate and resolve the problem. Do not return to your home until you are told it is safe to do so.
CARBON MONOXIDE ALARMS
One of the best ways to prevent the worst happening is to have a carbon monoxide detector. CO detectors work much like a fire alarm or smoke detector by sounding an alarm when they detect carbon monoxide.
Any detector you buy should be marked EN 50291 and have the British Standards Kitemark- you should have one in any room you have a gas appliance.
Be sure to test them regularly and replace the batteries when necessary.
Do not rely on 'black spot detector' warning strips as they do not make a sound and the warning is too easily missed if you were asleep when the leak happened, for example.
You should never rely solely on the CO alarms as protection from CO leaks. Getting your gas fire regularly serviced and safety checked should still be your top priority.
IS IT SAFE TO LEAVE A GAS FIRE ON AT NIGHT?
Although it can be tempting in the winter months to leave your gas fire on overnight so that you wake up to a nice, cosy house the next morning, this is never recommended. Not only is it going to be expensive to run all night but the risk of a potential fire or carbon monoxide poisoning while you sleep isn't worth it. It is better to always switch off your gas fire before you go to bed just to be safe.