The return of low temperatures boosts your dependency on home heating equipment every fall. If your furnace isn’t functioning correctly, it might become a fire hazard and threaten your family’s safety.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), heating systems like furnaces are a top source of home fires, causing nearly 50,000 blazes, 500 civilian deaths and more than $1 billion in significant property damage each year. Space heaters and fireplaces cause most of the fires involving heating equipment, but central heaters, like furnaces, are liable for just about 12% of these blazes. Learn more about the most likely causes of furnace fires and how to avoid them.
Causes of Furnace Fires
Aging furnaces are more exposed to safety concerns as they may be configured differently and settle into disrepair through 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 several ways. Here are the main risks:
- A clogged filter can impede airflow and force the motor to work harder. Eventually, the motor can overheat, increasing the risk of fire.
- Dirt can collect around and cover up the motor, forcing it to retain heat, which can trigger a fire.
- Exposed or damaged wiring can cause the voltage to elevate, increasing the likelihood of an electrical fire.
- Exceedingly tight or damaged motor bearings can heat up as the furnace is on. Without adequate lubrication, the bearings can eventually light on fire.
Blocked Furnace Flue
Yard waste, animal nests and other obstructions can obstruct the furnace flue, lowering oxygen. This results in soot building up and bad ventilation, limiting efficiency and increasing the risk of flame rollout. Flame rollout is when fire escapes the heat exchanger and burns the parts in your furnace. If this problem continues, your heating equipment can be severely damaged, and the fire could 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 within your home. A heat exchanger clogged with soot or corrosion has the same impact as a blocked furnace flue—reduced performance and a bigger risk of flame rollout.
Cracked Heat Exchanger
Several problems can happen if corrosion breaks the heat exchanger. First, it lowers suction inside this chamber, triggering less airflow and increased flame rollout. Second, it emits fumes, such as carbon monoxide, into your home. Breathing in CO gas can be deadly, so never ignore your carbon monoxide alarms. CO gas can also return to the source of the leak and ignite if a flame is found.
Improper Gas Pressure
Furnaces require a precise mixture of natural gas and air to ensure 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 inside the heat exchanger, increasing the rate of corrosion.
On the other hand, high gas pressure can produce excessive heat within the furnace, which can cause the soot inside the heat exchanger to ignite. Such fires can quickly spread to other areas.
How to Prevent Furnace Fires
Based on the listed ways a furnace can light on fire, here are the steps you can take to prevent furnace fires:
- Change the air filter consistently: 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: Examine the exterior vent for obstructions and take care of any you find.
- Don’t store combustible items near the furnace: Things like cardboard boxes, paper, clothing and other combustibles should be kept more than 3 feet away from the furnace and all 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 right away to diagnose and repair the problem before it produces a furnace fire.
- Schedule annual 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 yearly tune-up? Do you need help resolving a problem with your furnace? Whatever the reason, Strogen's Service Experts is here for you. Our HVAC pros can inspect, clean and test the system to provide safe operation. If anything looks out of place, we’ll perform 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 Strogen's Service Experts office