The return of low temperatures raises your reliance on home heating equipment each fall. If your furnace isn’t working correctly, it could become a fire hazard and jeopardize your family’s safety.
As reported by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), heating systems like furnaces are a top cause of home fires, causing approximately 50,000 blazes, 500 civilian deaths and more than $1 billion in direct property damage annually. Space heaters and fireplaces generate the majority of fires involving heating equipment, but central heaters, such as furnaces, are responsible for just about 12% of these blazes. Learn the primary causes of furnace fires and how to prevent them.
Causes of Furnace Fires
Old furnaces are more vulnerable to safety problems because they may be manufactured differently and settle into disrepair through the years. Nevertheless, whether your furnace is more than a decade old or brand new, you should know about these causes of furnace fires.
A furnace motor can overheat in various ways. Here are the main risks:
- A clogged filter can restrict airflow and force the motor to work harder. At some point, the motor may overheat, elevating the risk of fire.
- Dirt can accumulate around and coat the motor, forcing it to hold heat, which can trigger a fire.
- Exposed or corroded wiring can cause the voltage to increase too much, increasing the risk of an electrical fire.
- Excessively tight or damaged motor bearings can heat up whenever the furnace is on. Without the appropriate lubrication, the bearings can eventually light on fire.
Clogged Furnace Flue
Yard waste, animal nests and other obstructions can block the furnace flue, reducing oxygen. This results in soot building up and weaker ventilation, limiting 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 persists, 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 is exchanged to the air circulating through your home. A heat exchanger blocked with soot or corrosion has the same effect as a blocked furnace flue—reduced performance and an increased risk of flame rollout.
Cracked Heat Exchanger
Various problems can happen if corrosion breaks the heat exchanger. First, it affects suction inside this chamber, triggering less airflow and increased flame rollout. Second, it emits fumes, such as carbon monoxide, into your home. Inhaling CO gas can be lethal, so never dismiss 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 depend on an exact combination 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 leads to unwanted condensation within the heat exchanger, increasing the rate of corrosion.
Conversely, high gas pressure can produce excessive heat within the furnace, which can cause the soot inside the heat exchanger to combust. Such fires can easily spread to other areas.
How to Prevent Furnace Fires
Based on the listed ways a furnace can catch fire, here are the steps you can take to avoid furnace fires:
- Change the air filter on a regular basis: Check the filter monthly and change it when it seems 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 store combustible items around 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 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 right away to diagnose and repair the problem before it produces a furnace fire.
- Schedule annual furnace maintenance: It isn’t always easy to recognize if your furnace is operating 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 reason, Epperson Service Experts is here for you. Our HVAC experts can inspect, clean and test the system to ensure safe operation. If anything doesn't seem right, we’ll suggest a repair or a modification, providing you peace of mind that your furnace is unlikely to catch fire. For more information or to schedule furnace maintenance, please contact your local Epperson Service Experts office