Wood Burning Stoves and the Risk of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Why is Carbon Monoxide So Dangerous

CO moleculeCarbon monoxide (CO) is an odourless, colourless and tasteless gas that is highly poisonous. If you are exposed to it in a closed, poorly ventilated space, you can die in a matter of minutes. When you are breathing in this poisonous gas, your body begins to replace oxygen in your blood with CO which deprives your cells of oxygen. And without oxygen, the cells begin to die and the vital organs stop working. But the thing that makes CO so dangerous is that its victims typically are not even aware that they are exposed to potentially fatal concentrations given that the gas has no odour, colour and taste, and that the symptoms of poisoning are very unspecific.

Does Your Wood Burning Stove Put You at Risk of CO Poisoning

CO is produced by all devices and appliances that produce combustion fumes including wood burning stoves. But in normal conditions, the amount of CO that is produced by wood burning stoves is completely harmless. The risk, however, is there and should not be ignored.

Your wood burning stove puts you at risk of CO poisoning if:

  • the stove is not correctly installed
  • the stove is not correctly operated
  • the stove does not meet the basic quality and safety standards regardless if it is old or new
  • the stove is not properly maintained and regularly checked for safety
  • the chimney or flue is blocked
  • the space is not adequately ventilated
  • the stove is installed in the same space as the extraction fan

What Are the Symptoms of CO Poisoning

As mentioned earlier, symptoms of CO poisoning are very unspecific and most of the victims do not know that they are at risk of potentially fatal complications. Possible symptoms include headache, weakness, nausea, dizziness and vomiting. But they can rapidly progress into confusion, unconsciousness and death.

How Can You Prevent CO Poisoning

Each year, about 50 people die in the UK from CO poisoning. But the risk of potentially fatal exposure to this toxic gas can easily be prevented by:

  • having your stove installed by HETAS licensed installer
  • operating and maintaining your stove as recommended by the manufacturer
  • having your chimney and flue cleaned by a chimney sweep at least once per year
  • having your stove checked for safety by a professional at least once per year
  • ventilating your home on a regular basis
  • installing a CO detector; it is a small and inexpensive device that will alert you if the levels of CO are dangerously high
  • checking your CO detector’s batteries at least twice per year
  • leaving your home immediately if your CO detector sounds an alarm