The return of cooler temperatures boosts your reliance on home heating equipment in the fall. If your furnace isn’t working correctly, it may develop into a fire hazard and jeopardize your family’s safety.
As reported by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), heating equipment is a leading source of home fires, contributing to approximately 50,000 blazes, 500 civilian deaths and more than $1 billion in significant property damage annually. Space heaters and fireplaces start most of the fires affecting heating equipment, but central heaters, including furnaces, are accountable for just about 12% of these blazes. Learn the leading causes of furnace fires and how to minimize them.
Causes of Furnace Fires
Old furnaces are more vulnerable to safety problems since they might be manufactured differently and settle into disrepair over the years. That being said, whether your furnace is more than a decade old or brand new, you should be familiar with these causes of furnace fires.
A furnace motor can overheat in different ways. Here are the most common risks:
- A clogged filter can impede airflow and force the motor to work harder. Eventually, the motor may overheat, raising the risk of fire.
- Dirt can collect around and insulate the motor, forcing it to absorb heat, which can lead to a fire.
- Exposed or corroded wiring can cause the voltage to get too high, increasing the likelihood of an electrical fire.
- Exceedingly tight or worn motor bearings can heat up when the furnace is on. Without the proper lubrication, the bearings may eventually catch fire.
Clogged Furnace Flue
Yard debris, animal nests and other obstructions can clog the furnace flue, restricting oxygen. This leads to soot building up and improper ventilation, decreasing efficiency and increasing the risk of flame rollout. Flame rollout is when fire reaches past the heat exchanger and burns the parts in your furnace. If this problem continues, your heating equipment may be severely damaged, and the fire may even spread to areas outside the furnace.
Obstructed Heat Exchanger
The heat exchanger is a sealed combustion chamber where the heat generated by your furnace transfers to the air circulating throughout 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
Various problems can happen if corrosion damages the heat exchanger. First, it lowers suction inside this chamber, resulting in less airflow and increased flame rollout. Second, it emits fumes, like carbon monoxide, into your home. Inhaling CO gas can be lethal, so never neglect your carbon monoxide alarms. CO gas can also flash back to the source of the leak and ignite if a flame is lit.
Improper Gas Pressure
Furnaces require a precise combination of natural gas and air to generate safe and efficient combustion. Too little pressure is often because of clogged burner orifices. This problem makes the burner flames more likely to roll out. It also causes unwanted condensation within the heat exchanger, increasing the rate of corrosion.
On the other hand, high gas pressure can lead to excessive heat in the furnace, which can cause the soot inside the heat exchanger to burn. Such fires can quickly spread to other areas.
How to Prevent Furnace Fires
Based on the various ways a furnace can catch fire, here are the steps you can take to prevent furnace fires:
- Replace the air filter consistently: Check the filter each month and change it when it looks dirty or every three months, whichever comes first.
- Keep an eye on the furnace flue: Inspect the exterior vent for obstructions and clear out any you find.
- Don’t place combustible items near the furnace: Things such as cardboard boxes, paper, clothing and other combustibles should be kept at least 3 feet away from the furnace and all other heating equipment.
- Put in a flame rollout switch: This safety component recognizes if a fire or hot exhaust gases are inside your furnace’s burner compartment. If the rollout switch trips, have your furnace inspected as soon as possible to diagnose and repair the problem before it results in a furnace fire.
- Schedule yearly furnace maintenance: It isn’t always easy to notice 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 taking care of a problem with your furnace? Whatever is happening, Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning is here for you. Our HVAC professionals can inspect, clean and test the system to ensure safe operation. If anything looks out of place, we’ll perform a repair or a modification, giving 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