Carbon Monoxide: The Invisible Killer

by Steven Burnett /

It was in the news recently that two different families lost their lives because of carbon monoxide gas. I felt it was important to bring back this article on this gas.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a bi-product of combustion. You can’t see it or smell it. It is a heavy gas that moves along the floors of a home. It will not necessarily kill a person, but it can make them very sick.  Low levels of carbon monoxide poisoning can be confused with flu symptoms, food poisoning or other illnesses and carry a long-term health risk if left unattended. Some of the symptoms are:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Mild nausea
  • Mild headaches

Moderate levels of CO exposure can cause death if the following symptoms persist for a long measure of time and high levels of CO can be fatal causing death within minutes.

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Light-headedness

So what causes CO in a home? Most American homes have a furnace, and a gas-powered water heater. If these are not properly maintained, they can produce CO. The flue pipes on these appliances should be checked regularly for CO Detector (image from Wikipedia)holes or miss-aligned joints. Other sources of CO are unvented gas space heaters, fireplaces, and Kerosene heaters. You would be surprised on how many people bring a charcoal or gas grill inside the house when it is raining or too cold outside to barbeque. One of the families recently killed had a gas generator running in the house. They might as well have brought their car into the house. Any appliance that uses solid fuel, LP gas, Natural gas, charcoal, gasoline, or kerosene can produce carbon monoxide.

How do you protect your family? First regularly maintain your gas powered appliances in your home. That includes Furnaces, water heaters, clothes dryers, and cooking stoves and fireplaces. If you have an unvented space heater, remove it!  Next have a CO detector (alarm) on each floor of your home. Be sure the detector is installed at floor level.  Most are made to plug into an outlet. That is a good height. You would be surprised at how many CO detectors I find high on a wall or ceiling height. Ceiling height is OK for unfinished basements, but on any other floor, the alarm needs to be at floor level.   Remember, CO is a heavy gas that moves along the floor.  If your alarm is at ceiling height, particularly in a bedroom, you would be dead before the alarm would go off.

When it comes to gas appliances, common sense is the key.  If you don’t think it should be used in an enclosed area, or it wasn’t designed to be used indoors, then DON’T!

Have a great day. Keep thinking Spring. Be safe!

Steven Burnett

Steven Burnett is a certified Professional Home Inspector with Journey Property Inspections, LLC, covering all of Southeastern Michigan. He also does radon testing, water quality testing, and lead paint testing. Steven has raised six daughters, helped care for 8 foster babies, and now has 3 grandchildren.



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One thought on “Carbon Monoxide: The Invisible Killer

  1. Hi Steven, as rightly suggested by you, there needs to be more awareness on the maintenance of furnace and gas powered heaters. All families who have a furnace or a gas powered heater should have a CO detector alarm on each floor. Thanks a lot for posting this article.

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