The return of low temperatures boosts your reliance on home heating equipment every fall. If your furnace isn’t working properly, it could develop into a fire hazard and threaten your family’s safety.
As stated by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), heating equipment is a top source of home fires, leading to approximately 50,000 blazes, 500 civilian deaths and more than $1 billion in significant property damage every year. Space heaters and fireplaces generate most of the fires involving heating equipment, but central heaters, such as furnaces, are responsible for around 12% of these blazes. Learn more about the most likely causes of furnace fires and how to minimize them.
Causes of Furnace Fires
Old furnaces are more susceptible to safety hazards as they may be configured differently and slide into disrepair through the years. Nevertheless, whether your furnace is more than a decade old or brand new, you should be aware of these causes of furnace fires.
A furnace motor can overheat in different ways. Here are the biggest risks:
- A clogged filter can block airflow and cause the motor to work harder. Sooner or later, the motor might overheat, raising the risk of fire.
- Dirt can collect around and coat the motor, forcing it to retain heat, which can lead to a fire.
- Exposed or damaged wiring can cause the voltage to get too high, increasing the risk of an electrical fire.
- Overly tight or damaged motor bearings can heat up when the furnace is on. Without the appropriate lubrication, the bearings could eventually catch fire.
Obstructed Furnace Flue
Yard debris, animal nests and other materials can block the furnace flue, lowering oxygen. This leads to soot building up and weaker ventilation, decreasing efficiency and increasing the risk of flame rollout. Flame rollout is when fire reaches past the heat exchanger and burns the parts inside your furnace. If this problem persists, your heating equipment can be badly damaged, and the fire may even spread to areas outside the furnace.
Obstructed Heat Exchanger
The heat exchanger is a closed combustion chamber where the heat created by your furnace is moved to the air circulating within your home. A heat exchanger clogged up with soot or corrosion has the same impact as a blocked furnace flue—reduced performance and an increased risk of flame rollout.
Cracked Heat Exchanger
Numerous problems can take place if corrosion cracks the heat exchanger. First, it lowers suction inside this chamber, triggering less airflow and increased flame rollout. Second, it produces fumes, including carbon monoxide, into your home. Inhaling CO gas can be lethal, so never ignore your carbon monoxide alarms. CO gas can also return to the source of the leak and ignite if a flame is lit.
Improper Gas Pressure
Furnaces need an exact mixture of natural gas and air to generate safe and efficient combustion. Too little pressure is often the result of clogged burner orifices. This problem makes the burner flames more likely to roll out. It also causes unwanted condensation in the heat exchanger, increasing the rate of corrosion.
On the other hand, high gas pressure can produce excessive heat inside the furnace, which can cause the soot inside the heat exchanger to burn. Such fires can easily spread to other areas.
How to Prevent Furnace Fires
Based on the listed ways a furnace can combust, here are the steps you can take to prevent furnace fires:
- Change the air filter regularly: Check the filter monthly and change it when it appears dirty or every three months, whichever comes first.
- Check the furnace flue: Periodically check the exterior vent for obstructions and clear out any you find.
- Don’t place combustible items around the furnace: Things like cardboard boxes, paper, clothing and other combustibles should be kept more than 3 feet away from the furnace and any other heating equipment.
- Install a flame rollout switch: This safety device recognizes if a fire or hot exhaust gases are inside your furnace’s burner compartment. If the rollout switch triggers, have your furnace inspected promptly to diagnose and repair the problem before it causes a furnace fire.
- Schedule annual furnace maintenance: It isn’t always easy to tell if your furnace is operating unsafely. Whether you notice warning signs or not, don't forget furnace maintenance every fall.
Schedule Furnace Services Today
Is it time for your annual tune-up? Do you need help resolving a problem with your furnace? Whatever is happening, Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning is here for you. Our HVAC experts can inspect, clean and test the system to guarantee safe operation. If anything doesn't seem right, we’ll recommend a repair or a modification, offering you peace of mind that your furnace is unlikely to catch fire. For more details or to schedule furnace maintenance, please contact your local Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office