Carbon Monoxide in Home: Causes, Solutions, & Prevention

Headaches, nausea, and fatigue…is it the flu, or something much more sinister—the harmful effects of carbon monoxide exposure? In even the smallest concentrations, carbon monoxide has detrimental effects on your body. It’s often called the “silent killer” because it can claim lives rapidly without warning!

In this blog post, learn more about this deadly gas, how it enters homes, and how to stay aware of carbon monoxide levels at all times for the health of you and your family.

Characteristics of Carbon Monoxide: What is it?

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and deadly gas found in the fumes that are “produced any time you burn fuel in cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, or furnaces.” —

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a molecule made of up one carbon and one oxygen atom—not to be confused with carbon dioxide (one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms). While both are completely colorless and odorless, the difference between them could not be more extreme!

Aside from its deadly effects on the body’s organs when it’s breathed, carbon monoxide is also highly flammable, so any presence of this gas in your home is life-threatening.

Causes of Carbon Monoxide in Home

But how does carbon monoxide enter your home? Carbon monoxide is produced whenever fuel is burned. This includes your home appliances like water heaters, clothes dryers, furnaces, fireplaces, stoves, ovens, and more. 

While all of these fuel-burning appliances are perfectly safe and normal for your home to have, the problem comes when these appliances are not maintained or vented properly

Proper ventilation is crucial to making sure any CO gets vented to the outdoors instead of filling the closed spaces in your home. Debris buildup or holes in the ventilation of your gas appliances puts you at risk for CO exposure. 

Or take your furnace, for example. As your furnace ages, it becomes more susceptible to cracks in the heat exchanger that release carbon monoxide into the air in your home. This is one of the most important reasons why a furnace tune-up is crucial, especially on older units to catch any indication of cracking in the heat exchanger. It could mean life or death!

Detecting Carbon Monoxide in Home

How can you detect carbon monoxide? Can you see it? Can you smell it? The short answer is no! Carbon monoxide has no color or odor—but it can be detected by its effects. Some of the first signs of exposure include headaches, difficulty breathing, nausea, and dizziness. Because of carbon monoxide poisoning’s similarities to flu symptoms, many people don’t recognize the signs—or worse, ignore them. 

(Don’t wait to notice symptoms before taking preemptive measures. By then, it will be too late. Keep reading just a little further to see how quick carbon monoxide’s deadly effects are!)

It is impossible to detect the signs of carbon monoxide effectively without a carbon monoxide detector. CO levels can be detected continuously in your home with the installation of these devices throughout your home. It is recommended that a carbon monoxide detector at least be installed on each level of the home outside of sleeping areas. Additional detectors can be placed proximate to your fuel-burning appliances like your water heater, furnace, and laundry machines—usually in the basement. 

Best Carbon Monoxide Detectors

When choosing a carbon monoxide detector, you should choose one that:

  • Accurately detects CO, even at low levels. Even exposure at low levels (under 30 ppm) can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, memory loss, skin lesions, sweating, and flu-like symptoms. Low levels can even cause long-term damage like heart disease and nervous system damage. Individuals especially vulnerable to low levels include pregnant women, young children, older adults, and those with medical conditions. 
  • Has an electrochemical sensor. An electrochemical sensor will make your detector stable and reliable during humidity and temperature changes and less susceptible to false readings.
  • Is battery-operated with a backlit display. If your detector is battery-operated, you can rest assured that it will work, even during power outages or disruptions. A backlit display will also ensure that your CO levels can be read in the dark as well.
  • Has visual and audible alerts. Since carbon monoxide is a silent killer, both visible and audible alerts are important so that you can be clearly warned of this threat in your home!
  • Alerts you when it’s time to replace the alarm. An automatic warning toward the end of your monitor’s life will ensure that you can replace it in time so that there is never a time that you are without a detector.

We recommend installing the Defender LL6070 Low Level CO Monitor because of its ability to alarm at CO levels below 30 ppm. This model is designed to be added protection for older adults, pregnant women, young children, and persons with medical conditions who may be more vulnerable to lower levels of carbon monoxide. 

Ask us what CO monitors are best for your home.

Carbon Monoxide’s Hazards to Your Health and Life: Monitoring CO Levels for Your Safety

Being exposed to even the most minuscule concentrations of carbon monoxide has hazardous effects—ranging from headaches and nausea to chronic tiredness and even coma or death. Even CO levels lower than 30 ppm can have negative effects on older individuals, pregnant women, young children, or those with medical conditions! Essentially, carbon monoxide works by cutting off the oxygen supply to the muscles and brain.

The severity of carbon monoxide’s effects depends on the concentration of CO in the air, the length of exposure to it, and of course any preexisting medical conditions. Our resource below indicates how long this deadly gas takes to work its way through the body at various concentrations.

Concentration of CO in air* to inhalation time and toxic symptoms developed


35 ppm (.0035%)

The maximum allowable concentration for continuous exposure in any 8-hour period.

200 ppm (.02%)

Slight headache, tiredness, dizziness, nausea after 2-3 hours.

400 ppm (.04%)

Frontal headache within 1-2 hours, life-threatening after 3 hours.

800 ppm (.08%)

Dizziness, nausea and convulsions within 45 minutes. Unconsciousness within 2 hours. Death within 2-3 hours.

1,600 ppm (.16%)

Headache, dizziness and nausea within 20 minutes. Death within 1 hour.

3,200 ppm (.32%)

Headache, dizziness and nausea within 5-10 minutes. Death within 30 minutes.

6,400 ppm (.64%)

Headache, dizziness and nausea within 1-2 minutes. Death within 10-15 minutes.

12,800 ppm (1.28%)

Death within 1-3 minutes.

*Maximum CO concentration for exposure at any time as prescribed by OSHA. 


Effects can vary significantly based on age, sex, weight, and overall state of health.

Download this resource on Carbon Monoxide’s Hazards.

Carbon Monoxide & Air Quality Solutions at Blakeslee & Son

Keep your home free of carbon monoxide this season—your life depends on it! Whatever air quality, HVAC, or ventilation services your home may need, you can count on Blakeslee & Son. 

We provide:

  • Furnace tune-ups and maintenance to detect the signs of heat exchanger cracks and CO leaks
  • CO detector installation for continual monitoring of carbon monoxide levels for the safety of your home
  • New equipment installation to replace faulty, old, and unsafe equipment
  • Ventilation services to safely vent CO from your appliances to outside your home

Your safety is a big deal. Reach out to us today to set up an appointment and keep your home safe! We’ll help you find the right CO detector for the safety of you and your family members.

Blakeslee & Son services Rockford, Ada, Cascade, Cedar Springs, Comstock Park, Walker, Grandville, MI, and the surrounding areas in West Michigan.