The return of cooler temperatures increases your dependence on home heating equipment each fall. If your furnace isn’t functioning properly, it could develop into a fire hazard and endanger your family’s safety.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), heating systems like furnaces are a leading source of home fires, contributing to approximately 50,000 blazes, 500 civilian deaths and more than $1 billion in significant property damage each year. Space heaters and fireplaces start most of the fires affecting heating equipment, but central heaters, including furnaces, are liable for around 12% of these blazes. Learn the primary causes of furnace fires and how to prevent them.
Causes of Furnace Fires
Old furnaces are more exposed to safety problems as they might be configured differently and fall into disrepair over the years. Nevertheless, whether your furnace is more than a decade old or brand new, you should know about these causes of furnace fires.
An Overheated Motor
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. Eventually, the motor may overheat, elevating the risk of fire.
- Dirt can gather around and insulate the motor, forcing it to absorb heat, which can lead to a fire.
- Exposed or deteriorated wiring can cause the voltage to elevate, increasing the risk of an electrical fire.
- Excessively tight or worn motor bearings can heat up as the furnace starts. Without the proper lubrication, the bearings could eventually catch fire.
Blocked Furnace Flue
Yard debris, animal nests and other materials can clog the furnace flue, lowering oxygen. This leads to soot accumulation and improper 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 seriously damaged, and the fire may even spread to areas outside the furnace.
Clogged Heat Exchanger
The heat exchanger is a closed combustion chamber where the heat created by your furnace transfers to the air circulating through your home. A heat exchanger clogged up with soot or corrosion has the same effect as a blocked furnace flue—reduced performance and a higher risk of flame rollout.
Cracked Heat Exchanger
Various problems occur if corrosion cracks the heat exchanger. First, it affects suction within this chamber, triggering less airflow and increased flame rollout. Second, it emits fumes, like carbon monoxide, into your home. Inhaling CO gas can be deadly, so never neglect your carbon monoxide alarms. CO gas can also return to the source of the leak and ignite if a flame is present.
Inadequate Gas Pressure
Furnaces require an accurate 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 leads to unwanted condensation inside the heat exchanger, increasing the rate of corrosion.
On the other hand, high gas pressure can create excessive heat within 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 various ways a furnace can combust, here are the steps you can take to prevent furnace fires:
- Change the air filter on a regular basis: Check the filter once a month and change it when it appears 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 keep combustible items close to the furnace: Things including cardboard boxes, paper, clothing and other combustibles should be kept more than 3 feet away from the furnace and all other heating equipment.
- Put in a flame rollout switch: This safety system detects if a fire or hot exhaust gases are inside your furnace’s burner compartment. If the rollout switch triggers, have your furnace inspected as soon as possible to diagnose and repair the problem before it results in a furnace fire.
- Request annual furnace maintenance: It isn’t always easy to tell if your furnace is working unsafely. Whether you notice warning signs or not, don't forget furnace maintenance every fall.
Schedule Furnace Services Today
Is it time for your yearly tune-up? Do you need help taking care of a problem with your furnace? Whatever is happening, Levy & Son Service Experts is here for you. Our HVAC pros can inspect, clean and test the system to guarantee safe operation. If anything looks out of place, we’ll suggest a repair or a modification, offering you peace of mind that your furnace is unlikely to catch fire. For more information or to schedule furnace maintenance, please contact your local Levy & Son Service Experts office