graphic for Carbon Monoxide column by David Richardson

Carbon Monoxide: Which Combustion Gases Are You?

July 23, 2019

By David Richardson

David Richardson, NCI Trainer

Each combustion gas has traits that parallel many behaviors and attitudes people have. Some of them are positive and beneficial, while others are negative and dangerous. Let’s look at five combustion gas traits and see how they parallel many behaviors and attitudes you might recognize in yourself and others.

Keep in mind, just as the combustion process is a mixture of various gases, we’re a mixture of personality traits and behaviors. Just as we must control certain combustion gases to prevent them from causing harm, we also must focus on recognizing and improving the parts of our personality that make us toxic to others.

Carbon Monoxide

The most commonly discussed combustion gas is carbon monoxide (CO). This poisonous gas is often called the silent killer because it is odorless and tasteless. If you know what to look for, you can detect it with the right tools. CO alarms detect dangerous CO amounts while low-level CO monitors pick up harder to detect quantities.

Unfortunately, there are many people with parallel CO traits – they are toxic and poisonous. Some are toxic in high levels and easy to spot. These are the people who are arrogant, selfish, inconsiderate, and have an overall bad attitude. You know you’ve been poisoned as soon as you encounter them.

However, there are also people who mimic low level CO and are harder to detect. They poison you over time, instead of all at once. Be aware of their characteristics and how to spot them. They are usually backbiters, gossips, and enjoy tearing others down.

This personality type will either quickly or slowly poison everyone around them with their influence. They drive away good employees who refuse to be infected by their toxic nature and will eventually destroy relationships and a company, if endured long enough. Unless they are dealt with, they will eventually poison everything they come near.


A necessary combustion gas that is rarely discussed is Oxygen (O2). This gas provides a safety cushion for combustion and is essential to maintain safe and efficient operation. It is a catalyst that keeps the flame burning and strengthens the combustion process. When there isn’t enough O2 present, equipment operation can become dangerous.

Someone with an O2 personality is easy to spot. They do the right thing regardless of who is watching and have a positive attitude. You’ll frequently find them getting things done because of their own initiative.

They are also great team members who unite, motivate, and encourage those around them. Their leadership stands out because so many trust them. When you’re around someone who makes others better, you’re probably around an O2 personality.


Nitrogen makes up a large percentage (79%) of combustion air that is drawn into the burner flame. However, nitrogen does nothing for the combustion process except steal usable energy that could be used to heat air, water, or steam. It is rarely measured, so the effect it has on equipment is hard to quantify.

In comparison, someone with a Nitrogen personality typically contributes very little to their job or to help others.

They suck the energy and motivation out of those around them. They are often carried by their teammates. It’s easy for them to blend into a team environment as others bear the load that they should be carrying themselves. They often procrastinate on tasks and lack initiative.
This is one of the most frustrating gases (personalities) to endure since they are usually unaware of their poor influence. You’ll typically notice this trait in someone who only shows up for work to gather a paycheck – and only does the bare minimum required of them. Just as in combustion, it’s best if you limit the amount of Nitrogen.

Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a natural combustion process byproduct. It’s a very heavy gas that contributes to dangerous conditions if it doesn’t leave the equipment properly. In other words, it becomes hazardous when it builds up and displaces O2. This unintended consequence leads to excessive CO production.

Someone with a CO2 personality can be compared to a micromanager. They create heavy burdens for their employees and team members and unintentionally change them to other gases such as CO. This can easily happen to model employees as they are suffocated from any source of CO2. Once O2 runs out, CO is the result.

CO2 personalities often have good intentions but disastrous results. They are often untrustworthy, self-willed, hardheaded, and try to control every small detail. Their own productivity is often limited as they worry about everyone else’s perfect production.

If you’re a company owner, manager, or team leader, be aware of this trait and get rid of it before it leads to dangerous conditions.

Water Vapor

Water vapor is another combustion byproduct that makes up a large portion of flue gas. It looks innocent but is the most deceptive of all. When it reveals its true nature, it turns acidic and eats away at everything it encounters. In vapor form it’s fine, but once it condenses, the damage begins.

This reaction is responsible for venting system corrosion, heat exchanger failure, and many other equipment issues. To correct it, you must recognize its true nature and assure it’s removed from the venting system before it does any harm.

Someone with a water vapor personality may appear harmless but often has a passive-aggressive personality. They often make sarcastic or degrading comments and then pass it off as “only joking” when you confront them.

Their deceptive nature can make it hard to pinpoint the reactions. However, the results leave no doubt this gas was around – there’s always damage. Think of them as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” They appear to be one thing but are really something else that destroys and slowly eats away at individuals and a company.

There are warning signs to be aware of. This personality type usually complains, criticize others, wants special treatment, brags, and occasionally puts you on the defensive. Unfortunately, once you figure this personality type out, it may be too late. You may have trusted them only to be thrown under the bus before you know their true nature.

Purge these personality types from your life as quick as possible to keep them from slowly eating away at your attitude and corroding your self-esteem.

So, You’ve Got Gas – Now What?

Comparing your personality and attitude to a combustion gas is an interesting exercise. As you read this article, if you thought of everyone you know and identified their issues first, you probably have a toxic (CO or water vapor) attitude.

Start with yourself and identify what you need to correct. Honestly evaluate your attitude and behaviors to determine which gas(es) you have.

Self-examination is the hardest thing to do. We don’t like to admit there might be faults we need to fix. It’s much easier to blame others and identify their flaws than to identify our own and accept responsibility for them.

When you identify issues, write them down and actively work to change them to improve your relationships, both personal and professional. Consider how you can add a little O2 into your attitude.

Once you assure that your attitude is what it needs to be, subjectively, not emotionally consider if these negative combustion gas traits are in any of your co-workers or employees. Remember, these gases are undetectable without the proper knowledge and tools. So many with bad attitudes are also unaware of their toxic nature because they are unable to detect it.

If you identify these issues, help them see what they might be missing and help them improve. If they refuse to improve, they need to be purged. Don’t let negative behaviors hang around to slowly poison you and your company.

About the Author

David Richardson serves the HVAC industry as a curriculum developer and trainer at the National Comfort Institute, Inc. (NCI). NCI specializes in training focused on improving, measuring, and verifying HVAC and Building Performance. If you’re an HVAC contractor or technician interested in learning more about adding combustion testing to your services, contact David at [email protected] or call him at 800-633-7058. NCI’s website is full of free technical articles and downloads to help you improve your professionalism and strengthen your company.