The return of cold temperatures boosts your reliance on home heating equipment every fall. If your furnace isn’t operating properly, it could become a fire hazard and endanger your family’s safety.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), heating systems are a leading factor of home fires, causing approximately 50,000 blazes, 500 civilian deaths and more than $1 billion in direct property damage every year. Space heaters and fireplaces start most of the fires involving heating equipment, but central heaters, including furnaces, are responsible for just about 12% of these blazes. Learn more about the leading causes of furnace fires and how to avoid them.
Causes of Furnace Fires
Older furnaces are more vulnerable to safety problems as they may be designed 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.
An Overheated Motor
A furnace motor can overheat in various ways. Here are the main risks:
- A clogged filter can impede airflow and cause the motor to work longer. Eventually, the motor can overheat, elevating the risk of fire.
- Dirt can gather around and cover up the motor, forcing it to retain heat, which can cause a fire.
- Exposed or deteriorated wiring can cause the voltage to increase too much, increasing the risk of an electrical fire.
- Overly tight or damaged motor bearings can heat up when the furnace runs. Without the proper lubrication, the bearings can eventually catch fire.
Blocked Furnace Flue
Yard debris, animal nests and other materials can block the furnace flue, reducing oxygen. This results in soot buildup and bad ventilation, decreasing efficiency and increasing the risk of flame rollout. Flame rollout is when fire reaches past the heat exchanger and burns the parts within your furnace. If this problem persists, your heating equipment can be severely damaged, and the fire could spread to areas outside the furnace.
Clogged Heat Exchanger
The heat exchanger is a closed combustion chamber where the heat produced by your furnace is moved to the air circulating throughout your home. A heat exchanger blocked with soot or corrosion has the same result as a blocked furnace flue—reduced performance and a higher risk of flame rollout.
Cracked Heat Exchanger
Various problems occur if corrosion damages the heat exchanger. First, it affects suction inside this chamber, leading to less airflow and increased flame rollout. Second, it produces fumes, like carbon monoxide, into your home. Breathing in CO gas can be deadly, so never ignore your carbon monoxide alarms. CO gas can also flash back to the source of the leak and ignite if a flame is present.
Improper Gas Pressure
Furnaces require a precise mixture of natural gas and air to ensure 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, accelerating the rate of corrosion.
Conversely, high gas pressure can produce excessive heat in the furnace, which can cause the soot inside the heat exchanger to ignite. Such fires can easily spread to other areas.
How to Prevent Furnace Fires
Based on the different ways a furnace can catch fire, here are the steps you can take to avoid furnace fires:
- Replace the air filter on a regular basis: Check the filter each month and change it when it appears dirty or every three months, whichever comes first.
- Check the furnace flue: Inspect the exterior vent for obstructions and remove any you find.
- Don’t place combustible items close to 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.
- Put in 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 trips, have your furnace inspected promptly to diagnose and repair the problem before it results in a furnace fire.
- Schedule annual furnace maintenance: It isn’t always easy to recognize if your furnace is performing unsafely. Whether you notice warning signs or not, remember furnace maintenance every fall.
Schedule Furnace Services Today
Is it time for your yearly tune-up? Do you need help fixing a problem with your furnace? Whatever the case, Strand Brothers Service Experts is here for you. Our HVAC professionals can inspect, clean and test the system to ensure safe operation. If anything seems off, 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 Strand Brothers Service Experts office