The Invisible Danger of Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas. You can’t see it, smell it or taste it. It can poison you before you even know it’s there – and it can kill you.

The good news is that you can be protected against the dangers of carbon dioxide by using a simple CO detector that is relatively inexpensive and easy to install.


Carbon monoxide is a by-product of incomplete combustion. It is most commonly caused by gas or oil appliances such as furnaces, clothes dryers, ranges and water heaters that are not operating properly or well-ventilated. It can also be caused by poorly ventilated fireplaces, wood-burning stoves or charcoal grills.

When your appliances and their ventilation systems work properly, and there is enough fresh air in your home to allow for complete combustion, it is still likely that trace amounts of CO will be released into the air, but they are typically not hazardous.

However, there are several common conditions that can cause CO to rise to potentially deadly levels:

  • Your appliance malfunctions (for example, the heat exchanger on your furnace cracks or leaks)
  • Your appliance’s vent, flue or chimney becomes cracked, separated or blocked
  • Your fireplace, wood burning stove, charcoal grill or other similar apparatus is not properly vented
  • Your car is left running in an attached garage or near an open door and CO seeps into the house
  • If several gas- or oil-burning appliances are operating at once and competing for limited fresh air. This can cause incomplete combustion and CO buildup, even if all appliances are working properly


Carbon monoxide can be extremely dangerous, because inhaling it allows the gas to bond with the hemoglobin in your blood, which displaces the oxygen you must have to live. In the process, your body produces a toxic compound in your blood called carboxyhemoglobin (COHb), which is what causes CO poisoning.

It is important that you know and recognize the symptoms of CO poisoning. They can include:

  • MILD EXPOSURE: Fatigue, mild headache, flu-like symptoms, nausea and vomiting
  • MEDIUM EXPOSURE: Pounding headache, confusion, sleepiness, rapid heart rate
  • HIGH EXPOSURE: Convulsions, unconsciousness, heart failure and lung failure

Be aware that low levels of CO buildup can quickly escalate to high levels – which can lead to brain damage and death. If you suspect that you or someone else is experiencing symptoms or illness related to CO exposure, immediately move to a well-ventilated area and contact emergency services.


Because carbon monoxide is imperceptible by the human senses, it is important to install the proper number of CO detectors to match the size of your home, office, or anywhere the potential for CO buildup may exist. Many alarm companies also include CO detection as a standard or optional feature of their systems.

Much like a home smoke detector, CO detectors will alert you to the potential danger as soon as it is detected by the device. It is also critical that you follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for regularly testing and refreshing the batteries to ensure your CO detector is always on the job.

Contact Barineau Heating and Air Conditioning today for a free estimate on routinely inspecting and maintaining ventilation for all your oil-, gas- and wood-burning devices and appliances to be sure they are operating properly. Call (850) 580-4029, or submit your online request.

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