/ Health, Home & Energy

Carbon monoxide: the cause for alarm

carbon monoxide alarm

Following the death of her daughter Katie from carbon monoxide poisoning, Avril Samuel co-founded the Katie Haines Memorial Trust. It helps raise awareness about the dangers of the deadly gas and to prevent unnecessary loss of life especially through carbon monoxide alarms.

Thursday 18 February 2010 had been a busy day at work because my husband Gordon and I were driving later that evening to our cottage in Wiltshire, en route to Cornwall for a few days.

However, while we were on the M4, we received a call that changed our lives – a parent’s worst nightmare. Our eldest daughter Katie, 31, married in a fairy-tale wedding just two months prior, had been involved in an accident and we had to get to the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading immediately.

While her husband Richard was on his way home from work, Katie had taken a bath, but on standing up had been poisoned by a lethal dose of carbon monoxide [CO] from a faulty boiler, causing her to fall back into the bath, hitting her head on the side. Sadly, it was too late by the time Richard returned – Katie had drowned, with 37% CO in her blood [normal levels are less than 2.3%]. Richard, who fortunately survived, incurred 20% while trying to resuscitate her.

Our home boiler was regularly serviced and when the registered engineer recommended we install a CO alarm, we did so without really thinking about it. I think I am reasonably intelligent, but I was still unaware of the dangers of carbon monoxide and never checked to see whether our children had alarms in their homes. I thought CO poisoning was something that happened elsewhere.

Ironically, Katie and Richard had bought a smoke alarm that came with a CO alarm, and although they had installed the smoke alarm, they hadn’t got round to putting up the CO alarm.

Raising awareness

Following Katie’s death, we set up the Katie Haines Memorial Trust [KHMT] with Richard to raise awareness of the dangers of CO. Sadly, there are still up to 50 deaths per year and over 200 people attending hospital with suspected CO poisoning, according to NHS figures. The symptoms of this are flu-like and people can suffer low doses of the poison for years without it being detected.

We’ve since given away thousands of carbon monoxide alarms to vulnerable people, spoken at freshers’ fayres and industry conferences and, something of which we’re most proud, made three carbon monoxide awareness films.

We were particularly concerned that there were no prime-time TV advertisements, such as those we’ve seen for drink-driving, strokes and heart attacks, and so decided to make our own YouTube films, which have now been viewed by thousands of people.

We introduced our latest film, Cause for Alarm, at the launch of the sixth annual Gas Safety Week in September.

It shows that two simple steps can protect you against this ‘silent killer’. Firstly, to have your carbon-burning appliances regularly checked by a registered professional and, secondly, to install one or more audible CO alarms in your home.

We also commissioned a YouGov survey, which found that of the 2,133 adults polled, only 40% knew that the only safe colour for a flame on a gas appliance is blue. KHMT has warned people that if flames have a slight yellow or orange tint they could be emitting CO.

Advice on carbon monoxide alarms fpr staying safe

I’m obviously very concerned that Which? found 10 dangerous CO alarms in its recent tests of them. All of these alarms claimed to have passed the relevant EU safety standard, EN 50291.

My advice would be to always purchase audible CO alarms from a reputable source and to make sure that they carry the BSI Kitemark safety certification BS 50291. Remember to test your alarm weekly and to make a note of the expiry dates — most alarms last for seven to ten years.

Never rely on the patches that change colour when they detect CO, either. I can’t actually believe these are still sold – what on earth happens when you’re asleep and unable to check for a colour change? A noisy alarm is much more effective at alerting you to a CO leak.

I’d also advise landlords to make sure tenants have sealed-unit alarms, thus ensuring that batteries aren’t taken out to replace in a remote control.

But as much as you can make your home safe with an audible alarm, what happens when you sleep away from it? That’s why our trust advocates taking an alarm with you when you go away, whether you’re staying in the UK or abroad. We’ve noticed that whenever we’ve stayed in B&Bs, they don’t seem to have them, so we talk to the owners and often by the morning they’ve ordered some on the internet.

Our trust has received many emails from people thanking us for raising awareness of CO because they had been saved by alarms they’d bought after hearing about Katie’s tragic story.

Katie’s future has been taken away, but it’s comforting to know that she has saved other people’s lives.

This is a guest contribution by Avril Samuel, co-founder of the Katie Haines Memorial Trust. All views expressed here are Avril’s own, not necessarily those shared by Which?.

Do you think more can be done to improve our safety when it comes to carbon monoxide? Do you have carbon monoxide alarms and regularly check that they work, or have you ever come across a dangerous one?

Comments
Profile photo of alfa
Member

Sorry Avril, it was bad timing that I posted my funny experience with a carbon monoxide detector earlier this morning and I am sorry you lost your daughter when as you now know detectors can be life savers. I don’t think any of us appreciate their value until we hear a story like yours.

Following one of your links, I am pleased to see we have one of Which?’s recommended detectors.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Thanks very much for this Conversation, Avril. I was aware that some carbon monoxide detectors were better than others and had suggested that Which? should offer us some advice. Many years ago, the Which? magazine alerted me to the fact that I had a smoke detector that could be slow to react. All that was necessary was to swap the cover for one with larger holes.

Every room with a gas or solid fuel appliance should have a working carbon monoxide detector that is within date. Unlike smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors must be replaced periodically.

Profile photo of Avril Samuel
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Thank you for your comments. Just to let you know that smoke alarms not wired in also have an expiry date and should be replaced accordingly.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Hi Avril – I have moved house recently and bought some new battery operated alarms because the house has only a couple of interlinked mains alarms in the hall and on the landing. The ten year life ones with non-replaceable batteries have a place to record the installation date whereas the ones that take replaceable batteries have no expiry date. My research suggests that (ionisation type) smoke alarms with replaceable batteries can continue to work for many years, though I’m not advocating this. In my previous house I had 1980 alarms in two rooms in addition to newer ones. Out of interest, I took them into the kitchen and did a toast test and they were just as sensitive as the new ones. On the other hand, it is well documented that carbon monoxide alarms must be replaced by the expiry date.

Old carbon dioxide alarms can be disposed of as electronic waste at a recycling centre but ionisation smoke alarms contain a small amount of radioactivity and should be handed to a member of staff.

Best of luck with your campaign.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Hi again, Avril – I have now seen a battery-operated smoke alarm with an expiry date, as you mentioned. I presume this is a recent change.

Profile photo of wavechange
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I was staying with friends who have a holiday let in the next village. The oil-fired Worscester-Bosch boiler was in the locked garage of the bungalow and the guests heard an alarm before the boiler locked out. What had happened was the boiler had become blocked with soot causing carbon monoxide to escape and set off the alarm. Being in a rental property, the boiler had been serviced as required and there was no danger to the guests because the boiler was not in the house.

My friends asked me if I could let in the gas engineer, who fired up the boiler and it burned with a yellow flame. When this happens, carbon monoxide is produced. I asked why the boiler casing had not prevented it leaking out, but apparently this can happen. The boiler was full of soot, but he cleaned it out and adjusted it so that it burned with a blue flame.

As mentioned in the introduction, a yellow or orange flame in a gas or oil appliance is a warning sign not to be ignored. As my anecdote illustrates, regular servicing is not enough. It’s a pity that modern boilers often have tiny windows that make it difficult to keep a check on the colour of the flame.

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Thank you for sharing your story. We’ve always had a carbon monoxide alarm in our boys room, but I hadn’t realised that they have a definitive life time, so I will be replacing ours. We’ve just moved house and now our boiler is in the kitchen, so I will get a new CO alarm fitting in there as well.

I’ve recently installed 3 Nest smoke alarms which also all have CO alarms which gives some added peace of mind as they will also give us alerts when we’re out of the house.

Profile photo of wavechange
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My First Alert carbon monoxide detectors pre-date the Which? test but in future I will buy recommended alarms.

I paid extra for detectors with digital displays but have never seen them read anything other than zero. I would be interested to know if testing detectors by pressing the button is sufficient to check their sensitivity throughout their working life. Test aerosols are available to check carbon monoxide detectors, but at a cost. Having bought calibration gases in large quantities when I was working, it seems that someone is making a large profit.

I would like Which? to make safety related reports freely available rather than restricted to members, but at least everyone can find out which are the ‘Don’t Buys’. It is commendable that Which? has pursued the companies involved in marketing poor quality detectors.

Profile photo of duncan lucas
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You know Wavechange I can go to American websites and US consumer associations and get highly detailed tech info on CO2 detectors with country of origin in a lot of cases -US products notably higher priced and industrial ones and yet over here its like secret service you just get sales patter as to best buys but technical details on a US scale are sadly lacking. I just dont get the secrecy here .

Profile photo of wavechange
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In the Which? report it is the cheap carbon monoxide (CO nor CO2) alarms that performed poorly, so in this case you are getting what you pay for. Nevertheless, it is unacceptable that any substandard ones are available. Independent testing is needed before safety devices are put on sale.

Hopefully Which? might consider making the report on carbon monoxide alarms publicly available. I hope that other subscribers would support this.

Profile photo of Lauren Deitz
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Hello Wavechange and Duncan, the ‘Don’t Buys’ have been named and made publicly available. We’ve also shared a lot of information from the investigation and our advice on how to buy an alarm, some of you may have seen this in the press yesterday and if you were up early enough and tuned into Good Morning Britain you may have even seen Which? Editor, Richard Headland, talking about the investigation.

Profile photo of wavechange
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I have a friend who fitted out a narrowboat a couple of years ago and he asked me for advice on smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. The boat had to comply with the Boat Safety Scheme, which is effectively an MOT for boats together plus numerous requirements for design. A modern narrowboat is effectively a metal box, narrower than a caravan, though often longer. Amazingly, many have solid fuel stoves in what is a very confined space. I understand that they can be the sole means of heating. I learned that having carbon monoxide and smoke alarms is recommended but not a requirement to achieve a certificate. I also learned that there have been numerous fatalities on boats, mainly as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning and fires, and solid fuel stoves are the usual culprit. I did fit a smoke alarm and a carbon monoxide alarm with a digital display for the chap with the boat.

I would like to see all homes, caravans and boats fitted with smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms wherever there is a gas or solid fuel appliance. Perhaps this could be made an insurance requirement.

Profile photo of John Ward
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Would a Canary be any good, Wavechange?

Profile photo of wavechange
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Maybe, but an alarm that stops sounding when there is danger is not the best choice. Birds have a faster rate of metabolism than humans so are give an early warning of gas. I presume canaries were used in mines because they are small.

Profile photo of John Ward
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Before other chemical and electronic means of detecting poisonous gases became available Canaries were the only reliable means of warning of a gas outbreak, admittedly by ceasing to make any sound and possibly expiring, so they always had to have a child minding the Canary to sound a more audible alarm if the Canary started to falter. Interestingly, it is still a legal requirement in the UK for every working mine to have a Canary at the bottom of the pit while any mining is being carried out. The first Labour leader Keir Hardie started work at a colliery at the age of seven and might well have been a Canary-minder as soon as he reached the age of ten when young boys were allowed to work underground. I raise these points in response to an enquiry from my little Norwegian Blue friend Eccles [pictured left].

Profile photo of wavechange
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I hope Avril does not mind a bit of levity but it might encourage some more input.

It is important that people understand the dangers of carbon monoxide. It does not kill instantly, but gradually reduces the capacity haemoglobin in the blood to provide the body with sufficient oxygen. There is little danger in entering a room, opening the windows and helping conscious occupants move away from whatever is producing the invisible, toxic gas. Moving a barbecue into a confined space such as a tent is very dangerous.

I try and avoid the local pub on quiz night but might suggest the ongoing requirement for canaries in mines as the basis of a quiz question. Incidentally, you previously mentioned Eccles in a Convo on 17 September 2015, according to a well known search engine.

Profile photo of Sophie Gilbert
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Thanks for this conversation, Avril. I find your statement very humbling: “Katie’s future has been taken away, but it’s comforting to know that she has saved other people’s lives.” Thank you for turning your experience into something so positive.

We have the gas boiler serviced once a year by a gas engineer and he checks the fire alarms and the CO alarm. He’s mentioned an expiry date for both types.

It is rather shocking that Which? should find 10 dangerous CO alarms all claiming to have passed the relevant EU safety standard. Lord only knows what Brexit means, but if/when Britain really gets out of Europe, one obvious thing to keep an eye will be any new safety standards that come into place. It may be easier and cheaper to stick to the EU ones, so we can hopefully improve on them and stop any fraudulent claims to have passed them.

Profile photo of John Ward
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Good point, Sophie. After we have quit the EU we should not compromise on safety standards and we should adopt any EU standards that are superior to our own. In would be in the interests of UK manufacturers to be able to market their products in other European countries and elsewhere in the world with EU compliance.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Prompted by this Convo I have bought an fitted a long-life smoke alarm (a Which? Best Buy) to replace an old one in the dining room. After a day of hearing it bleeping every minute, I have temporarily reinstated the old one. I wonder how good the quality control of these alarms is.

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
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Looking at the battery powered Nest one cannot but feel given its enhanced capabilities it may run out of battery power sooner than a decade. However on Curry’s site there appears to be no mention of anticipated battery life. For £89 I would want that sort of info.

I note that the Germans tested smake alarms in February and January this year – and given the very likely use of Chinese factories to supply it would be interesting if commonalities can be established so that a major black mark can be raised and firms in the EU advised NOT to buy from them. Not fool-proof but evidence of some action.

I was wondering if Amazon and eBay felt sufficient social conscience to advise how many of the duff smoke alarms are installed in the UK now. We also might hope that they recover them all rather than simply refunding the cost.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Thats a fair point, Patrick. Battery life is important. I will hold my hand up to having taken the battery out of a smoke alarm when it has started bleeping in the middle of the night to announce that the battery needs replaced. (I’m not unduly concerned because I have more alarms than rooms.) The fire services have reported that many homes have alarms fitted but not in use. Nuisance alarms, low batteries and batteries borrowed for use in kids’ toys are among the reasons. I have one smoke alarm that has a plastic arm that prevents installation on the backing plate unless a battery is fitted, which seems a good feature.

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Bishbut says:
19 October 2016

My latest smoke alarms were supplied and installed by the local fire brigade at no cost to me they put one on each floor level as they said they were needed at every level. Why can’t Gas suppliers do the same and give advice at the same time

Profile photo of malcolm r
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The concerns about unsafe CO detectors appear to be down to Amazon and ebay marketing, directly or not, the usual fake stuff that purports to be to a standard and CE marked. Why are these companies not prosecuted for taking part in this trade, directly or indirectly? It is, of course, Trading Standards job to deal with this sort of irresponsible trading; I hope Which? have reported their findings to them.

There are two current international standards issued in the UK as: BS EN 50291-1:2010 +1:2012 (an amendment) that covers CO detectors in domestic premises, and BS EN 50291-2-2010 that has additional tests for recreational vehicles, craft and similar.

Looking through the first quickly it is extremely comprehensive, including tests under different conditions. It includes provision for end of life indication, battery capacity, long term stability. The best way to buy these is to ensure they carry a certification mark – e.g. the BSI’s Kite Mark, European ENEC or other national mark that shows (unless fake) that it has been independently tested and certified by a national test house. CE marking is mandatory and producers will also need to comply with EN Quality requirements that ensure consistent manufacture and appropriate checks and testing are carried out.

They should also be purchased through reputable channels. Like anything else from unknown sources – via Amazon, ebay, for example – you run the risk of defective lookalikes.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Even if you avoid unheard of brands and manage to avoid counterfeit goods may not help. Have a look at the Which? report on smoke alarms, which is available online. It lists three FireAngel alarms, one a Best Buy and two as Don’t Buys. In both these cases, Which? reports: “it failed to go off in the times required by the British Standard when exposed to a common type of house fire.”

It is very common for manufacturers to have products that are both Best Buys and Don’t Buys. Sometimes it is the budget products that are inadequate but in this case, the most expensive alarm is one of the ones that do not comply with the relevant standard.

Sometimes manufacturers challenge the findings of Which? but in the case of a product that could save lives, the claims by Which? should be investigated and if confirmed, the company instructed to issue a recall.

This is not the first time that Which? has identified substandard smoke alarms. As I mentioned above, I had one of them. That was years ago.

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
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wavechange – You have identified the major problem with the Which? Best Buy system. If Fire Angel acquires a Best Buy licence [up to £30,000 a year] it can legitimately advertise heavily the one that passed.

The problem is that in the public’s mind the “brand ” is what is remembered.

Because of the aura effect the US Consumer Reports charity forbids the use of their ratings in adverts. As you can understand Fire Angel can take great , but dangerous, advantage of the Best Buy tag.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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The Standard gives very specific and comprehensive tests for a device to react to different concentrations of CO under different circumstances. A product that has an appropriate national mark must also be licensed to an international quality control system that is also audited. Should procedures and products fail to meet these standards action is taken and in appropriate cases the product licence can be withdrawn. No reputable manufacturer would, I believe, want to jeopardise their business in this way.

Although Which? don’t mention the laboratory (a “secret” that need not be) nor the test regime from the bit they publish I assume they test to BS EN 50291-1. They should. All reputable models tested were best buys. I did not see a “dont buy” among them. “Don’t buys” does not necessarily imply a product fails to meet an appropriate International Standard. Perhaps you have found a smoke alarm that did not; I haven’t looked.

Manufacturers products would be independently type tested to gain a licence, should be tested in manufacture as part of their licence and the licensing authority (such as BSI) carry out audits and tests. You cannot independently test every appliance sold. Should doubts be raised as to whether a claim to meet a Standard is not justified the licensing authority should be informed. I hope Which? do this where necessary. Standard have kept European consumers far safer for decades than would otherwise be the case.

Profile photo of wavechange
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As I said, I was referring to smoke alarms which, like carbon monoxide alarms, can save lives.

Of course it is possible to independently test representative samples of these products (not every item that is sold). That should be a condition of granting a licence. As I have suggested, claims by Which? or other organisations need to be independently vetted.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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I disagree with Which? using its name to endorse products through advertising. As you say, Patrick, the Manufacturer’s name is remembered probably more than the product. As Which?’s testing is limited – it does not properly test for durability, quality of construction, repairability for example – it can mislead. It seems only to be done for monetary gain and there is always the feeling that maintaining the income stream might be influential in its decisions.

I would like to see Which?, and its name, totally independent of any other commercial concerns. It has a huge role to fulfill in protecting consumers that should remain visibly free from any other influences. It won’t happen, I accept.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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My earlier post may have been missed by you, but I thought I explained the points you raise.

I explained that a condition of giving a product license was independent testing by an accredited test house. That is the basis of the licensing process.

Substantiated claims by Which? for example, if they have tested properly, that show product failure to meet a standard should be referred, as I also explained above.

Did you find a smoke alarm that did not meet the International Standard that was supplied from a legitimate source of a reputable brand? A “don’t buy” does not necessarily mean failure to meet a safety standard.

Profile photo of wavechange
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To repeat what I said about two FireAngel smoke alarms: “it failed to go off in the times required by the British Standard when exposed to a common type of house fire.” I trust that Which? has had these tested to the standard, but we have not been told.

How would I know if I bought an alarm that did not meet a standard? It seems a daft question, but I may have missed something. 🙂 I once read a report in the Which? magazine that informed me that one of my existing ionisation smoke alarms (a well known brand, bought in B&Q) underperformed. A phone number was provided and I received a replacement cover with more or larger holes in it. I do appreciate that a standard defines minimum requirements. I expect that many will be familiar with the description ‘meets or exceeds the appropriate standards’ in product descriptions.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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“How would I know if I bought an alarm that did not meet a standard?” A product meeting, and certified to, an international standard will have the standard number and the national mark (such as the Kitemark) on the literature and be marked on the product. However, any product marketed in the EU must be CE marked which indicates compliance with the appropriate standard. Products not meeting the standard should be reported to the national body that deals with this – presumably Trading Standards in the UK who are responsible for enforcement.

Profile photo of wavechange
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It was certainly had the relevant markings. I remember comparing this alarm with other smoke alarms. My question was about alarms that do not meet the standard even when they are marked as compliant.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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I’ve given my view on this above.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Patrick Taylor – I’m unhappy about a system that favours those companies that can easily afford to pay. I will continue to highlight examples of good and poor quality when Which? reviews provide examples.

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
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I think where we are dealing with safety products there needs to be a much more stringent regime.

It is not a Best Buy situation at all. It might be if ALL the alarms made by a company ALL passed it was made possible they get an award for that.

On a more safety conscious note I would suggest that only a restricted number of outlets are allowed to market and sell safety alarms. It is to serious a matter to be left to the Amazon and eBay marketplace.

Paid to the fire service, shops or charities that pay a bond or guarantee never to sell anything substandard.

This could also mean the clever design features like the need for a live battery to be in place before it can be fitted, as alluded to by another poster.

Essentially we still have unanswered the insurance industry/companies policy on leaving electrical appliances running, and this thread where how many tens of thousands of ropey CO alarms are lurking in houses courtesy of Amazon and eBay remains unanswered.

Profile photo of wavechange
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There are some interesting suggestions that could be debated. The main thing is that the safety of consumers is paramount.

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Patrick – I was hoping to come back to the insurance issues when I get some more time because I think the whole question needs exploring in more depth and insurance company claims policies perhaps need to be challenged.

I am also wondering what checks and tests the fire services do on the smoke alarms they install for people. Are they fitting a fully compliant product, or do they just think they are? It would be useful if correspondents here who have had them fitted by their local brigade could tell us, if they are able to, which make and model was fitted -an instruction leaflet should have been handed over with each installation and this will give the relevant details. Is this a free service for anybody, or are there criteria to fulfill? I am not aware of the way the scheme works.

Profile photo of duncan lucas
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Although related to health it isnt directly related to smoke alarms but this is so outrageous I had to post it. I happened to be listening to Radio 2, sometimes it has my era music, the very well known announcer (much loved by the public ) announced that the Royal College of Physicians had issued a statement for the over 65,s saying -quote- if you feel unsteady on your feet /dizzy you should —— CLEAN your glasses + do physical exercises, one wag phoned in to say he did just that and after exercising —fainted . Seriously, I find this hard to believe as dizziness in over 65,s could be hardening of the cranial arteries/ inner ear infection /and a whole host of life threatening diseases .

Profile photo of wavechange
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It’s no use having carbon monoxide and smoke alarms if they don’t work where needed.

A friend was having problems with a recently purchased First Alert smoke alarm (the first smoke alarm I have seen with an expiry date) and it was obvious that the battery connector on the 9V battery had come adrift. I reattached this and the test button revealed that it was working and very audible. When I demonstrated that it was working, the clip had come adrift again. These clips were troublesome when used in six transistor radios in the 1960s and have not improved. Alarms and other small electrical items with fixed battery terminals or battery trays are far better, in my opinion.

Which? does not give this alarm a Don’t Buy, but says: “Instructions on avoiding fire and looking after the alarm could be clearer. Battery replacement could be simpler”

I wonder if @malcolm-r could advise us on what the relevant standards have to say about battery connectors in alarms with replaceable batteries.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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I haven’t checked standards but all my PP3 connectors in smoke and CO alarms are very secure.

Profile photo of wavechange
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A battery tray with fixed connectors is better, I assure you. I have never had a problem unless there has been leakage causing corrosion of the connections. My interlinked mains smoke alarms installed when the house was built 18 years ago use this design, but some manufacturers are still using the inferior snap on connectors. Alarms with long-life non replaceable batteries are becoming more common, which will mean no more dodgy connections. EverReady did produce a PP3-style battery with a superior terminal clip (the negative terminal had two opposing prongs rather than the usual circular design), but this disappeared again, presumably because compatibility issues were discovered.

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Richard Thorndycroft says:
20 October 2016

On this subject how many people of a certain age or disability are aware that they can contact the local fire station who will come out & install the latest CO2 (Smoke Detector) at no charge & I believe that the batteries on these are supposed to last for up to 10 years.
Nothing much was said on the subject of CO detectors (CO gas is very sneaky, has no smell or taste/unlike smoke) so in the end I purchased one from British Gas at an extortionate price & got their technician to install it for me, so now when I remember it I go round my flat pressing the appropriate test buttons & deafening myself for ten minutes. Still that’s a lot easier to recover from but at the moment there is no cure when you are DEAD!

Profile photo of wavechange
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The way I test my smoke and carbon monoxide alarms is to use a stick to press the button. If you have a pole to access a loft ladder, that might do the job. The bonus is that it is kinder on the ears when the alarm is at a distance. A stick can also be used to press the silence button that temporarily mutes some alarms if set off by cooking. It’s not so easy to use a stick if you have high ceilings.

At least one company produced smoke alarms with a ‘torch test’ feature. I presume that instead of climbing up or playing with sticks, you pointed a torch at the alarm to test it. I am not sure how well these worked or if they are still available.

I wonder how many people have injured themselves testing their alarms or not tested them often enough because it’s too much hassle. Perhaps the companies that make the alarms could give some thought to finding a a solution.

If you have kids, ask to borrow their selfie stick. 🙂

Profile photo of wavechange
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There are a couple of videos about smoke alarms on the Which? website. There is reference to the test lab finding that they did not meet the standard, which seems to involve three types of test.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Years ago I fitted a smoke detector with an escape light in the hall of my bungalow. I would be able to feel my way but I was thinking how visitors, especially my elderly parents might cope. It had a large light and was impressively bright and loud. In 2013 the plastic was becoming rather yellow so I decided to replace it with a new alarm of the same brand. I’m almost certain it was a Which? Best Buy at the time. I could see that the light was much smaller but assumed it was a high intensity LED like those becoming popular in torches. Unfortunately it was a very small incandescent bulb. I did send an email to the company at the time but did not receive a reply.

Most of the time products improve but this is not the first time I have found companies who have replaced a good product with an inferior one. It’s not good when the product is sold as a safety device.

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iolo thomas says:
21 October 2016

ALERT: as carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas heavier than air, it will build up in a room from floor level, rather than from top down like smoke would. Imagine a heavy gas to be like water, the alarm position needs to be at a low level, not actually at floor level because there is always a draught there, but at a height of about 60 -90cm above floor level. Some persons have been killed by CO in their armchair, before the ceiling height alarm was activated. Our HETAS installer suggested that we put the CO alarm by the TV as it’s generally at low level / coffee table height.
CHECK: reputable manufacturers installation guide,

Profile photo of wavechange
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Carbon monoxide is actually slightly less dense than air. If you put a carbon monoxide alarm at a low level it could get dirty or damaged. As you say, you should check the instructions provided.

Profile photo of wavechange
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In my view, Whirlpool is unfit to run a business and should be instructed to compensate the owners of affected machines that have not been modified or replaced. I suggest that the compensation is sufficient to let them buy a heat pump drier, assuming that this is the safest option.

Here is a recent report that questions the advice from Whirlpool that it is OK to use machines of the type that have caused many fires: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/fire-chiefs-demand-whirlpool-recall-8989132

How long do we carry on allowing business to make decisions that affect public safety?

Profile photo of John Ward
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I agree Wavechange and would suggest that you also post that comment on the main Whirlpool Conversation [or perhaps I have missed it].

Profile photo of wavechange
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Thank you John. 🙂 I must concentrate and try to post in the relevant Convo.

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Andrew Stevens says:
29 October 2016

I’ve just had a quick look at Amazon.co.uk and there a quite a few cheap detectors still there that look identical to the dangerous types listed in the report.

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John Lewis says:
2 November 2016

Ebay and Amazon seem to be unable (or perhaps unwilling) to monitor and control the items which are listed on their websites. I have reported counterfeit items to eBay on numerous occasions yet months later the same traders are still operating selling the same counterfeit items.

Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the number of counterfeit items out there and are unwittingly buying products believing them to be genuine and manufactured to EU/UK regulations. Trading Standards need to be more pro-active in their response – perhaps one way of bringing it to peoples attention would be insisting that either eBay, Amazon and other such sites take better care over what items are listed or that there should be a warning on the log-in page advising consumers to take caution as some items may be counterfeit and/or dangerous.

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I think if eBay and Amazon make a charge for allowing traders to use their sites then they should also take some responsibility for the products on offer. Once defective products have been reported those, and the trader offering them, should be removed and maybe an initial penalty imposed. If the practice continues then prosecution could be the next step. We can all look on the internet for goods and take responsibility if we buy from unknown sites out of our jurisdiction. However when Amazon’s or eBay’s name is attached there is trust in the brand by many, and that should not be broken. But who should deal with transgressions?

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It is generally recommended that smoke alarms are fitted on ceilings and newer battery-operated ones have an expiry date, as Avril pointed out earlier. It would be very helpful to have a standard design so that the alarm can be attached to an existing base, making replacement a simple task. If the old base has to be removed from the ceiling and replaced by one of a different size with differently placed mounting holes, there is less chance that householders will fit replacements for old or faulty alarms. The same applies to carbon monoxide alarms, which come in different shapes and sizes.

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A couple of weeks ago I decided to replace my interlinked mains-powered smoke alarms, which were installed when the house was built, 18 years ago. Which? tests do not cover this type, possibly because they must be connected to the mains supply.

I selected replacements that looked similar to the existing alarms and was delighted to find that the bases were identical. I did use the new ones but was able to use the same screw holes for mounting them. The new alarms were much louder and much better than the old ones.

The old alarms had a slide-out battery drawer for the 9V backup battery and the battery can be changed without taking down the alarm. Furthermore, the drawer can not be closed if no battery is present, an excellent visual indicator that attention is needed. The new alarms have to be removed from the base and to replace the battery is a fiddly job involving a difficult to fit connector and a tiny screw securing the battery cover. To replace the battery it is really necessary to disconnect the mains connector and that locks into place, with no indication of how to remove it.

Usually designs improve but the exception proves the rule. If we are to be properly protected by smoke and carbon monoxide alarms they need to be designed in ways that will encourage proper use and maintenance. I will be contacting the manufacturer to point of the good and bad points.

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Philip Mitchell says:
17 November 2016

We bought a carbon monoxide alarm in 2012, made by Kidde. It may have been a recommended model at the time. On reading the November 2016 Which report I note that the model we have installed looks exactly like the Lifesaver CO alarm pictured in the report.
Is this a different company? Or are these alarms made by the same company and then badged?

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It looks as if ‘Lifesaver’ is just a brand that is or was used by Kidde. From a retailer’s website:
“Product Information
About the Kidde 5CO:
The Kidde 5CO is part of Kidde’s Lifesaver Brand offering continuous monitoring against the potential dangers of Carbon Monoxide.”

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I have posted this under this Convo because it is indirectly related to this topic. John , is it you that lives in London ? If so for the first time (this era ) London Mayor Sadiq Khan has issued a “very high ” air pollution warning its been assigned- “Black Level ” by an air monitoring team at KIng,s College London also by Airtext (London air monitor ) . Might be worth a subject on Which ? I remember the days of SMOG when you couldn’t see 6 feet in front of you and had to keep a handkerchief across your mouth+nose and it ended up covered in dirt.

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Not me, Duncan. We live in Norfolk where the air is good [except in Norwich which suffers from high pollution levels in the city centre, a lot of it coming from buses and taxis that have exclusive use of certain streets].

The smogs in London used to be thick and yellow suggesting a high sulphur content. There were many deaths and illnesses caused by the London smogs. We get thick mists in certain low-lying areas that make driving hazardous but they are not fume-laden.

The Mayors of London after Ken Livingstone haven’t done much to relieve London of pollution except some new buses and taxis with lower emissions. Boris Johnson even cancelled the extension of the Congestion Zone because it was going to interfere with the lifestyles of the residents of Kensington and Knightsbridge. And Mayor Khan seems hell-bent on filling every square centimetre of London and its environs with more development leading to more commuting and more traffic.

I can’t believe that the proliferation of air conditioning isn’t having a harmful effect on the atmosphere, and not just from the production of electricity that is required to operate it but from the hot air and its contents that is exhausted from buildings. Climate change? – We’re in it.

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Nitrogen oxide levels frequently exceed limits in parts of London. Most is due to motor vehicles. How ever much we try to reduce engine emissions in my view only by restricting the volume of traffic, particularly at peak times, can we hope to improve air quality to acceptable levels. Who will be brave enough to do that?