Protecting Human Health

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Protection in Building Habitable Spaces

2011-01-13:  Carbon Monoxide (CO) is an odourless, colourless and toxic gas.  Because it is impossible to see, taste or smell the toxic fumes, CO can kill you before you are aware it is in your home.  At lower levels of exposure, CO causes mild harmful effects which are often mistaken for the flu (influenza).  These symptoms include headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and fatigue.  The effects of CO Exposure can vary greatly from person to person depending on age, overall health and the concentration and length of exposure.  Source: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), USA.

Recent tragic deaths from CO Poisoning have occurred in Ireland … not only in the home, but also in a hotel.

Sources of Carbon Monoxide (CO) … unvented kerosene and gas space heaters; leaking chimneys and furnaces; back-drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces; gas stoves; generators and other gasoline powered equipment; automobile exhaust from attached garages; and tobacco smoke.  Incomplete oxidation during combustion in gas ranges and unvented gas or kerosene heaters may cause high concentrations of CO in indoor air.  Worn or poorly adjusted and maintained combustion devices (e.g., boilers, furnaces) can be significant sources, or if the flue is improperly sized, blocked, disconnected, or is leaking.  Car, truck, or bus exhaust from attached garages, nearby roads, or parking areas can also be a source.  Source: EPA, USA.


If there is a fuel burning / heat-producing appliance in any habitable space, in any building … and if you have not done so already … you must do something NOW to check that you are protected effectively from CO Poisoning.  Shift your ass !

In order to improve energy conservation and efficiency in buildings … direct, natural ventilation from the exterior is still being actively discouraged … and buildings are becoming more tightly sealed, during construction or major refurbishment, to prevent unintended air seepage.  Generally, this has been causing a serious increase in Building Related Ill-Health (also known as ‘Sick Building Syndrome’) … much of which is still going un-reported.



1.  Check that there is sufficient, clear, direct natural ventilation in any habitable space which contains a fuel burning / heat-producing appliance.  Next … Check that the terminal unit / outlet of the flue coming from that appliance is not blocked.  Then … Check the route of any flue from the appliance.  If, for example, a flue passes through another habitable space … that space must also be properly ventilated.

2.  Check that all fuel burning / heat-producing appliances are ‘fit for their intended use’ (this must be shown !), are working properly … and that they are regularly serviced by people who are competent to do so.  Paperwork is not a reliable indicator of competence !   Remember the problems with FÁS !?!

3.  Do not confuse Carbon Monoxide Detectors with Smoke Detectors !   Only install a dedicated Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector for the task of detecting Carbon Monoxide.  And … that Detector must be shown to be ‘fit for its intended use’.  Read the writing on the outside of the box carefully … and then read all of the instructions inside the box !


With regard to the issue of Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning in Ireland … Statistics Gathering is not reliable.  National Legislation concerning the installation of Carbon Monoxide Detectors in buildings should have been introduced many years ago … but this has not yet happened.  Furthermore … don’t hold your breath waiting for this much-needed legislation.  Based on past performance, technical and administrative officials in our relevant authority having jurisdiction, i.e. the Department of Environment, Heritage & Local Government (DEHLG), will prefer to wait before acting until similar legislation is introduced in Britain (England & Wales).


I will just describe what I have done in my own house … in the kitchen …

[Smoke Detectors are separately linked into a monitored security and fire warning system.]

In every room where a fuel burning / heat-producing appliance is located … a Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector is installed.  In the kitchen, for example, the Detector is fixed on the wall … at about head height, when sitting down at a table (appropriate for the normal pattern of use there) … and at a distance of approximately 2 metres from the natural gas kitchen range.  Control of direct, natural ventilation to the appliance is active … meaning, it always receives attention.  The usual kitchen clutter, e.g. clothes ‘waiting’ for ironing, etc., is never allowed to cover or block the Detector.  Everybody in the house understands the purpose of this product.

Colour photograph showing a battery-operated Ei Electronics Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector, Model Ei206D, fixed (tamper proof) to the kitchen wall. Two of the hanging decorative plates are from France and Turkey. As for the third plate ... does anyone remember the Willow Pattern ? Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2011-01-12. Click to enlarge.
Colour photograph showing a battery-operated Ei Electronics Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector, Model Ei206D, fixed (tamper proof) to the kitchen wall. Two of the hanging decorative plates are from France and Turkey. As for the third plate ... does anyone remember the Willow Pattern ? Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2011-01-12. Click to enlarge.


About the performance of the Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector in the event of a ‘real’ CO Leakage … I am comfortably assured, as I have known the EI Company in Shannon since the mid-1980’s.  At that time, I was the first architect in Ireland to install smoke detectors in any local authority housing scheme … and EI gave great technical back up and support, for which I am still very grateful.  I might add that those same smoke detectors were installed against the wishes of the local fire department.  A report on the whole test installation process was later presented, by Dr. M. Byrne, Engineering Manager of EI, to an International Fire Conference in Dublin.

The particular Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector shown in the photograph above is a battery-operated Model Ei206D.  There are no heavy, smoke sealed fire-resisting doorsets in the house … so the sound level of the distinct alarm / warning signal [85 dB(A) minimum at 3 metres] is more than adequate.  A few years ago, this was an expensive item to buy !   Now, however, CO Detectors are widely available … and at a more reasonable price.

Very Importantly … Ei Electronics have also developed a range of products – Solutions for All – which are suitable for use by People with Activity Limitations


Harmful Health Effects Associated with Carbon Monoxide (CO) Inhalation … at low concentrations: fatigue in healthy people and chest pain in people with heart disease.  At higher concentrations: impaired vision and co-ordination; headaches; dizziness; confusion; nausea.  Can cause flu-like symptoms which clear up after leaving home.  Fatal at very high concentrations.  Acute effects are due to the formation of Carboxyhaemoglobin (COHb) in the blood, which inhibits oxygen intake.  At moderate concentrations: angina, impaired vision, and reduced brain function may result.  At higher concentrations: CO Exposure can be fatal.  Source: EPA, USA.


Health Service Executive (Ireland) Factsheet

January 2011

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning – A Guide for GP’s & Other Medical Professionals

Click the Link Above to read and/or download PDF File (375kb)




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Sustainable Fire Engineering & Fires in Buildings ?

2009-07-11:   Practical Implementation of Sustainable Human & Social Development … transforming our Human Environment by gradually improving and monitoring ‘Real’ Sustainability Performance … depends entirely on directly applying a Multi-Aspect Understanding of ‘Sustainability’, in a manner which is both balanced and equitable, to all of the many different facets of Sustainable Design.

Therefore … responding ethically and professionally, in built and/or wrought (worked) form, to the still evolving concept of Sustainable Human & Social Development …

        … the specific aim of Sustainable Fire Engineering shall be to design for Maximum Credible Fire & User Scenarios … in order to maintain a proper and satisfactory level of fire safety and protection over the full life cycle of a building.

[Sustainable Fire Engineering can be applied, equally, to other elements of the Built Environment, e.g. means of transport on land or sea.]

As discussed in a previous post … the Minimum Life Cycle of a Sustainable Building is 100 Years.  AND, to prolong Building Life Cycle and maximize Building Usability … such a building must be Flexible and Adaptable with regard to internal layout, Accessible for People with Activity Limitations (2001 WHO ICF) … and Structurally Robust.


Maximum Credible Fire Scenario:

A sequence of events during a ‘real’ fire incident in a building – related to design, construction, occupancy, fire loads, ignition sources, spatial geometry, fire protection measures (both passive and active) … and an adverse, but reasonable to anticipate, operation and management status – which culminates in fire conditions which are severe, but reasonable to anticipate over a complete building life cycle.


Maximum Credible User Scenario:

Indicates building user conditions which are also severe but reasonable to anticipate over a complete building life cycle, i.e. …

  • the Number of People Using a Building increases, on occasions which cannot be specified, to 120% of Calculated Maximum Building Capacity ;


  • 10% of People Using the Building (occupants, visitors & other users) have an Impairment (visual or hearing, physical function, psychological, mental or cognitive … with some impairments not being identifiable, e.g. anosognosia).


Sustainable Fire Engineering Strategy:

A coherent and purposeful arrangement of fire protection and fire prevention measures which is developed in order to meet specified Sustainable Fire Engineering Design Objectives.

In designing a building for conditions of fire, and its aftermath, project-specific Sustainable Fire Engineering Design Objectives typically cover the following spectrum of concerns …

  • Protection of the Health and Safety of All Building Users … including people with activity limitations, visitors to the building who may be unfamiliar with its layout, and contractors or product/service suppliers temporarily engaged in work or business transactions on the premises ;
  • Protection of Property … including the building, its contents, and adjoining or adjacent properties, from loss or damage ;
  • Protection of the Health and Safety of Firefighters, Rescue Teams and other First Response Personnel ;
  • Protection of the Natural Environment from Harm, i.e. adverse impacts ;
  • Facility, Ease and Cost of carrying out Effective Repair, Refurbishment and Reconstruction Works after the Fire ;
  • Sustainability of the Human Environment (Social, Built, Virtual, Economic … ).


Human Health:

A state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.   (World Health Organization)




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BER Certificates & Poor Indoor Air Quality (III)

2009-02-27:  Energy Labelling of Industrial Products is an essential means of raising consumer awareness about energy efficiency and conservation.  I like being able to wander into an electrical shop anywhere in Ireland, Italy or Turkey, for example … and to compare the energy performance of different makes of washing machines, dishwashers or fridges … and even of apparently similar products in the different countries.


I can easily visualize these small industrial products being brought into a test laboratory, and then being put through their paces.  It is a credible system.


This is NOT possible, however, with a building.



EU Directive 2002/91/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, of 16 December 2002, on the Energy Performance of Buildings … is a short document of 7 Pages.  Its Preamble takes up slightly more than the first 2 Pages, and there is a 1 Page Annex at the rear.  Its language is clear and straightforward (see the example of Article 4 below).


[What I fail to understand is how and why the Irish National Legislation which implements the Directive … Statutory Instrument No. 666 of 2006: European Communities (Energy Performance of Buildings) Regulations 2006 … is so clumsy, awkward and full of flaws … offering us yet another example of failed ‘light-touch regulation’.  It may also be unconstitutional.]




The EU Directive has something important to say about Indoor Air Quality


Article 4 – Setting of Energy Performance Requirements


1. Member States shall take the necessary measures to ensure that minimum energy performance requirements for buildings are set, based on the methodology referred to in Article 3.  When setting requirements, Member States may differentiate between new and existing buildings and different categories of buildings.  These requirements shall take account of general indoor climate conditions, in order to avoid possible negative effects such as inadequate ventilation, as well as local conditions and the designated function and the age of the building.


[Quick flashback to a generation ago … the panic, throughout Europe, to conserve energy in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s led to a dramatic reduction in rates and quantities of direct, natural ventilation to the habitable spaces of buildings.  This, in turn, had an adverse impact on Indoor Air Quality, and led to a sharp rise in Asthma among building occupants.]




In Ireland, today, problems concerning Poor Indoor Air Quality continue to occur … typically during the Winter Heating Season.  There is a natural tendency to keep windows closed and to seal permanent ventilation openings.  Accidental indoor air seepage to the exterior is also being reduced in our newer building stock.


Poor Indoor Air Quality, an important factor in relation to building related ill-health (also known as ‘sick building syndrome’), can cause serious health impairments and severely restrict a person’s participation in everyday activities, e.g. work.


Symptoms and Signs may include:

         irritation of eyes, nose and throat ;

         respiratory infections and cough ;

         voice hoarseness and wheezing ;

         asthma ;

         dry mucous membrane and skin ;

         erythema (reddening or inflammation of the skin) ;

         lethargy ;

         mental fatigue and poor concentration ;

         headache ;

         stress ;

         hypersensitivity reactions, i.e. allergies ;

         nausea and dizziness ;





The following 2 Performance Indicators of Good Indoor Air Quality, developed with the aim of protecting human health, are recommended:


         Carbon Dioxide (CO2) concentrations in a building should not significantly exceed average external levels – typically within the range of 300 to 500 parts per million – but should at no time exceed 800 parts per million ;


         Radon Activity (including Rn-222, Rn-220, RnD) in a building should, on average, fall within the range of 10 to 40 Bq/m3 … but should at no time exceed 60 Bq/m3.





The concept of Protecting Human Health is altogether different from the concept of Assessing Risk to Safety.


In Ireland, testing for Radon Activity in buildings must take place during the Heating Season, i.e. the months of November through to March.  What is the use of testing during July, for example, when windows will be wide open ?   Who would even think of doing that ?   I wonder.


Measurement Uncertainty of the standard Alpha Particle Etched-Track Detector distributed by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) is as follows:

         under laboratory conditions: …………………… in the order of …… +/- 10%

         under tightly controlled site conditions: …. in the order of …… +/- 20%

         under typical conditions of use: …………….. well in excess of … +/- 30%


Unfortunately, until the RPII includes proper statements of Measurement Uncertainty in its Test Reports … our Organization cannot recommend RPII Radon Testing Services, and we will not accept RPII Test Reports as proper evidence of Radon Test Results.







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