Story at a glance:

  • Carbon dioxide is an odorless, colorless natural gas that can be hard to measure without the proper tools.
  • Residential homes require airflow to circulate the air and remove noxious gas buildup.
  • If sources of carbon dioxide go unchecked, levels can rise to unhealthy quantities and cause adverse health effects.
  • Mitigating emissions in new homes can be achieved with passive design and carbon-friendly materials.

With growing concerns around climate change, many people are also rightly worried about the potential sources of carbon dioxide in their homes. The buildup of this natural gas can lead to adverse health effects like fatigue, headaches, loss of concentration, dizziness, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, and more.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is around us all the time, both odorless and transparent. In large quantities, upwards of 1000 ppm, sources of carbon dioxide in the home can affect your health and well-being. Symptoms of excess carbon dioxide levels include fatigue, headaches, and dizziness and may increase in severity as levels of CO2 rise. Being aware of the sources of carbon dioxide in your home can help maintain harmless levels of CO2. Architects can also take measures to design for climate change and reduce future impacts of CO2.

“Our first responsibility is to educate, and then it’s to design for clients the best possible building or project that meets their needs,” Daniel Jaconetti, national sustainable design leader at HED previously told gb&d. 

Jaconetti says the best buildings are designed to be resilient, energy-efficient, comfortable, and without toxic chemicals. “The energy piece is probably the one that makes the most sense to people—being as efficient as possible. You’re putting out less emissions and you’re taxing the system less,” he says.

Here are 10 sources of carbon dioxide in the home and trips for to ease their impact.

1. HVAC Systems

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Photo by Trent Bell Photography

HVAC systems are designed to control the atmosphere in a given environment by recycling air, but without proper ventilation, CO2 can build up. A CO2 sensor can safeguard against this. Ensure your unit is up to date with a CO2 sensor that measures output, and maintain the quality of your HVAC system by regularly changing the air filters, which helps cut down on dust and debris from the air ducts. Buy a pack of filters and set reminders for yourself throughout the year as reminders to change them.

2. The Fireplace

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Earthcore can customize the fireplace of your dreams. The fireplace manufacturer uses Isokern pumice stone from Iceland in every project. Photo courtesy of Earthcore

Carbon dioxide is one of several gases produced by combustion, which means indoor fireplaces can produce toxic gas buildup if they are not ventilated properly. Again, installing CO2 monitors and smoke detectors will amplify safety and vigilance. You should also consider a professional inspection to evaluate the specifics of your fireplace and be mindful of using fire as a heat source.

3. Laundry Rooms

Washer and Dryer in Bathroom

Photo courtesy of Beko US

According to a study by the Journal of Integrative Environmental Sciences, it’s estimated that residential laundry emits 179 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. To mitigate emissions in your home, use high-spin cycles to reduce dampness before adding clothes to the dryer. The less wet clothes are, the less time it takes to dry, and the less CO2 emissions over a cycle of laundry. You can also try decreasing the number of loads per week by only washing clothes that are truly dirty and in larger quantities.

4. Crowded Rooms

outer teak collection

As part of being Forest Stewardship Council-certified, every piece in Outer’s new Teak Collection is harvested from sustainably managed forests in Java. Photo courtesy of Outer

On average, 4% of exhaled air is carbon dioxide. So what happens when you put a lot of people in a poorly ventilated room? Carbon dioxide levels rise. In fact, that stuffy, cramped, tired feeling you may have experienced at a crowded party is likely due to the increased levels of CO2. Common symptoms include fatigue, dull headache, and flushing of the skin, among others. Avoid this by opening windows to let air circulate, limiting the number of people in small spaces, or opting for larger, more open rooms or outdoor spaces better suited to a crowd.

5. Soil Beneath the Home

Phoenix Haus, Prefab Home

A typical Phoenix Haus prefab home is 2,500 to 4,000 square feet.
Courtesy of Phoenix Haus

Carbon dioxide can get trapped in the soil for hundreds of years, which provides complex support for plant life. Homes built on farms or landfills may have increased levels of soil carbon due to the interactions of living organisms in the soil. By practicing no-till gardening and vowing to leave the soil on your property undisturbed by thinking twice about adding an underground pool, carbon can be safely stored in natural deposits underground instead of in the air we breathe.

6. Smoking

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Photo by Timothy Hursley

Cigarette smoke is responsible for several deadly diseases, such as cancer and lung disease. If you are a smoker, there are one hundred reasons why you should quit— one of them being the damaging effects of carbon dioxide. CO2 levels in cigarette smoke are 200 times the levels in the atmosphere. Regular or frequent smoking, especially indoors, means consistent exposure to high levels of CO2, which is shown to play a major role in adverse health effects particular to cigarette smoke.

7. Stovetops

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Wood veneer kitchen cabinets. Courtesy of Woodstock Architectural Products

Gas stoves are not equipped with range hoods just for looks. Range hoods are built to remove heat, smoke, grease, and moisture while cooking. That includes the CO2 emitted from the open flame on your stove. Always make sure to use the range hood when cooking to avoid accumulating excess CO2. Cracking open a window while cooking is also recommended to keep air circulating.

8. Windowless Spaces

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Photo courtesy of Kushner Studios

Fresh air is necessary to cleanse the air of dust, pollutants, and a buildup of gas. If a room lacks windows or access to the outdoors, keep the door open as much as possible to promote airflow so that air can passively make its way through the house. You can also try enlisting the help of an air purifier equipped with an activated carbon filter. This type of filter, unlike the more common HEPA filter, will pick up all naturally occurring gas pollutants in the air.

9. Outdated Electrical Systems

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This prefabricated passive house is the brainchild of Plant Prefab and Richard Pedranti Architect. Courtesy of Plant Prefab

Energy conservation did not become a focus in homes until the late ’70s, and the advice of the times was to simply use less energy as the means to conserve resources. Updating old homes with electric heating and cooling systems along with other energy smart technologies can significantly reduce sources of CO2 in the home. Switching to energy-efficient appliances and vehicles, or opting to use public transportation, can also make a huge impact on the total footprint of a home.

10. Unmindful New Construction

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Photo courtesy of LP Structural Solutions

By 2050, new construction is estimated to be responsible for nearly half of all embodied carbon emissions globally. This refers to all the carbon dioxide produced throughout the construction process, from materials to processes.

Because new homes are far more costly in greenhouse gases than pre-existing homes, focusing on carbon-friendly materials and wood-intensive designs that can sequester large amounts of carbon can mitigate negative environmental effects. Working towards passive house certification will reduce emissions and offer long term savings from reduced energy costs.

Sophia Conforti and Laura Rote contributed to this article.