How Does Carbon Monoxide Form in a Home


Inside your home there can be a mix of different things that are produced into your air from a variety of sources such as cleaning products, paint, building materials, and even from fuel emission from a stove top. Carbon Monoxide is among the list of chemicals that can enter into your home from a variety of different sources like your stove and elevate the levels of this dangerous chemical to levels that can be potentially hazardous to human health.

Carbon Monoxide is not something that we think a lot about especially in our homes, but the reality is that this is chemical is a potential hazard to your personal indoor environment and needs to be closely monitored to minimize health risks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Carbon Monoxide kills hundreds and causes serious illness in thousands of people each year. These are scary statistics that will open your eyes to the potential risks inside your home when it comes to carbon monoxide emission in the air.

In this article we are going to discuss the different sources of carbon monoxide in your home, along with how you can check your home for this chemical and effectively mitigate it from your personal indoor environment.

What is Carbon Monoxide & Why is it Dangerous

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas that is also called the silent killer, because of its fast-acting hazards that can spread throughout an environment rapidly. This chemical is formed from burning fuels from wood, oil, natural gas, propane, kerosene, coal, and gasoline. There can be different source of carbon monoxide both in outdoor and indoor environments – such as CO from vehicle exhaust outdoors and CO indoors from appliances that produce the fuel.

This chemical becomes fairly toxic when inhaled – as it enters into the bloodstream it can lead your body not being able to effectively absorb oxygen which will result in tissue damage and over time potential death. Ultimately you will want to vigilantly monitor the levels of carbon monoxide within your home’s air to minimize potential exposure that can impact human health.

Difference Between Carbon Monoxide and Carbon Dioxide

There is often times a lot of confusion surrounding the difference between the two potentially hazardous chemicals, carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2). The names sound so similar that they will often get mixed up, but this is a mistake that you do not want to happen. There similar attributes that carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide have included colorless, odorless gas, that at high concentrations can be deadly. However, when you are comparing the two, carbon dioxide is a common, naturally occurring gas that is require for plant and animal life, and carbon monoxide is created as a byproduct of the oxygen-starved combustion of fuel.

Carbon Monoxide can be produced in dangerous levels by oxygen-starved combustion in environments where ventilation is poor. The appliances in a home that will produce this chemical in potentially high levels includes oil and gas furnaces, gas water heaters, gas ovens, gas or kerosene space heaters, fire places, and even wood stoves.

Top Sources of Carbon Monoxide in Home

Carbon monoxide as we discussed earlier is caused by the burning of fuels, whether that be from a stove top, a fireplace, a furnace, dryer, generator, or even from tobacco smoke. The different sources can emit varying levels of carbon monoxide into the environment, and thus some can be more harmful than others. Below we are going to discuss the different sources and their level of hazards they emit into the environment.

  • Stoves & Stove Tops: A major source of carbon monoxide emission in a home is that from a stove. Gas stoves and kitchen ranges can be a prominent source of CO in a home. If you live in a home with poor ventilation this can magnify the levels of carbon monoxide produced from the stove top in the confined space. In an effort to help prevent this it is important to keep your stove clean and in proper working conditions.
  • Generator: Gas-powered generators, specifically portable generators are a potential source of carbon monoxide emission inside your home. These items are very dangerous as they can produce outrageous levels of carbon monoxide when in use. Be sure to always run a generator, especially a portable one outside, away from a home and any open windows or doors.
  • Fireplace: A precious commodity inside of a home during the winter months is the warm and beautiful fireplace that will warm you up during the frigid weather conditions that swirl outside your home. The smoke that is produced from a fireplace will stem from the burning of wood and this smoke will accumulate inside the home. Within this smoke you will find carbon monoxide in the composition and this will flood into your indoor air. To reduce the amount of smoke that enters into your home from the fireplace, it is important to open the flue when using the fireplace.
  • Furnaces: In homes there are a variety of different chemicals that can produce carbon monoxide into the air including furnaces, dryers, space heaters, and water heaters. These appliances are powered by burning fuel and as it produces the chemical into the air it will increase the level present in the air. When all of these appliances are used together it can bring the carbon monoxide level in the home to dangerous levels.
  • Tobacco Smoke: Cigarettes are another source of carbon monoxide inside of your home. Smokers and people that they come into contact with will leave traces of carbon monoxide on them that will become airborne into the air. If you smoke inside the house the levels of carbon monoxide could be extremely high, as when you inhale cigarette smoke a portion of the CO created from the combustion that occurs when the tobacco within a cigarette is burned.

What is a Dangerous Level of Carbon Monoxide

The different potential sources of carbon monoxide inside your home can be numerous and the more sources of CO the higher the potential level of this chemical can be present within the air of this environment. When carbon monoxide builds-up in the environment it can create a dangerous level of CO in the air that can lead to adverse health reactions to those exposed to this chemical pollutant. The risks to human health from carbon monoxide emissions can depend on the length of exposure, the health of the individual(s), and the level of this pollutant in the air.

According to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, when levels are between 1 to 70 ppm (parts per million) most people will not experience any symptoms from prolonged exposure, other than those with heart conditions. When levels reach above 70 ppm symptoms will become more noticeable and will include headache, fatigue, and nausea. As the levels reach up to 150 to 200 ppm it will reach dangerous levels that can include health risks like disorientation, unconsciousness, and possible death.

Carbon Monoxide Symptoms in House

Carbon monoxide can be a fairly dangerous chemical as it is both colorless and odorless, leaving this chemical not easily detected in the environment. Some people may not even be aware that they are exposed to this chemical until symptoms start to occur within their body. The initial symptoms that one may experience from being exposed to carbon monoxide in the air can include the following:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness
  • And potential death

How to Check for Carbon Monoxide in House

Monitoring your indoor air quality inside your home for different airborne pollutants such as carbon monoxide can help you to stay vigilant in monitoring the different levels of pollutants in the air. Indoor air quality tests can be conducted to provide you with the results of the different pollutants present in the air including carbon monoxide. These tests for indoor air quality can be extensive and will potentially be both time consuming and expensive, therefore there are better options that you can implement into your home rather than performing these indoor air quality tests.

The easiest way to get an accurate reading of the level of carbon monoxide emissions in your home is by using a carbon monoxide detector. Many buildings actually require a carbon monoxide gas detector inside the building to ensure that levels are monitored in this space. These devices work as a layer of protection in the areas of your home where people risk exposure to carbon monoxide and when these levels become elevated it will alarm you of this hazardous level of carbon monoxide emission in the home.

Monitor Indoor Air Quality

Although carbon monoxide is a scary pollutant that can be found within the personal indoor air quality of your home there are also other pollutants that can taint your air quality as well such as VOCs and particulate matter. Volatile organic compounds are potentially hazardous chemicals that can significantly impact both the indoor air quality and human health, similar to that of carbon monoxide. The levels of VOCs and fine particulate matter inside your air can severely compromise the air quality in this enclosed space, and therefore it will be beneficial to monitor these pollutants as well.

The Foobot is a smart indoor air quality monitor that will help to track the level of pollutants present within your indoor air. Foobot is designed to provide a gauge of indoor air quality and measure the temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, toxic chemicals (VOCs), and harmful particulates. This indoor air quality meter is operated through the use of a smartphone app and gives you details for each pollutant in the air for a given space.

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