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As we enter the warmer summer months, the maintenance and cleaning of chimneys, boilers and flues may not be a priority for many people. However, following a recent near miss by Galway Bay FM host Keith Finnegan  the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) is urging homeowners to check ventilation shafts for any blockages caused by birds, plants and other wildlife to help reduce the risk from Carbon Monoxide.

On average, six people die every year because of unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning and many more fall ill. It’s estimated that two in five adults do not have a CO detector installed where they live, potentially putting them and their family in grave danger.

This week, Keith Finnegan, who hosts a popular morning chat show on Galway Bay FM, recounted his recent experience with a blocked boiler flue, saying he felt very fortunate that the consequences weren’t more serious.

“We had been away for the weekend and my daughter arrived home to find the CO detectors blaring throughout the house. She opened all the doors and windows and was told to get outside immediately,” said Mr Finnegan.

“We later discovered that a bird had built a nest in the boiler flue and the fumes were being pushed back into the house as a result. It took more than two hours to get the all-clear. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that something like this could happen to me. I have always been very conscientious when it comes to Carbon Monoxide awareness and I had installed CO detectors all over the house. I am just glad that no one was injured or worse,” he said.

Open fires, boilers and solid fuel stoves produce deadly carbon monoxide fumes, which can then seep into a home if the chimney or flue is obstructed by birds’ nests, spider webs, climbing plants or other debris.
NSAI is recommending that homeowners commit to the regular inspection and annual maintenance of appliances, vents, flues and chimneys by a qualified service agent. However, if your chimney is blocked by a bird’s nest and there are eggs already present, it is illegal to remove the nest until the chicks have fledged or left the nest.

“Carbon Monoxide is colourless, odourless and tasteless so unfortunately victims do not know it is present in their homes until it is often too late,” said Geraldine Larkin, NSAI Chief Executive.
“That’s why we recommend people buy a Carbon Monoxide detector and place it in their homes, close to where fuel is being burned and set no more than a metre off the ground,” she added.
“Additionally, people should only buy audible CO alarms, which display the CE Mark, comply with the EN 50291 standard and have end-of-life indicators. All of these safety features can be found on the device itself or the packaging,” said Ms Larkin.

If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, stop using any fuel burning appliances, ventilate the property and visit a doctor immediately.  Arrange for an inspection of your appliances by a registered gas installer, oil technician or qualified service agent for your fuel type before reusing the appliance, or if you burn coal in an open fireplace, arrange to have to chimney cleaned regularly. And of course, install an audible carbon monoxide alarm.
NSAI’s four-step safety list when buying a CO detector

  1. Buy an audible, not a passive, detector – passive detectors will not wake you up if carbon monoxide is present while you are asleep. Always install the alarm in a place where it can be heard easily.
  2. Ensure that the CO detector complies with European Standard EN 50291 – look for it on the box.
  3. CO alarms should always be CE Marked – look for the symbol on the alarm itself or the packaging. If it doesn’t display the CE Mark, don’t buy it.
  4. The active material within CO detectors deteriorates over time, meaning your family may not be getting the security it would expect. Always buy an alarm with an 'end-of-life' indicator so you know when it needs to be replaced. This indicator should not be confused with a 'fault' indicator. NSAI is advising people who already have a carbon monoxide alarm to check its end-of-life indicator and replace the entire device if required.