The return of cold temperatures boosts your reliance on home heating equipment in the fall. If your furnace isn’t functioning correctly, it could develop into a fire hazard and threaten your family’s safety.
As stated by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), heating systems are a major source of home fires, contributing to almost 50,000 blazes, 500 civilian deaths and more than $1 billion in direct property damage annually. Space heaters and fireplaces generate most of the fires affecting heating equipment, but central heaters, such as furnaces, are responsible for about 12% of these blazes. Learn the most likely causes of furnace fires and how to prevent them.
Causes of Furnace Fires
Older furnaces are more susceptible to safety concerns as they might be configured differently and fall into disrepair over the years. That being said, 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 different ways. Here are the main risks:
- A clogged filter can impede airflow and cause the motor to work longer. Sooner or later, the motor might overheat, increasing the risk of fire.
- Dirt can gather around and cover up the motor, forcing it to retain heat, which can trigger a fire.
- Exposed or deteriorated wiring can cause the voltage to increase too much, increasing the chances of an electrical fire.
- Overly tight or worn motor bearings can heat up when the furnace starts. Without the proper lubrication, the bearings can eventually light on fire.
Obstructed Furnace Flue
Yard waste, animal nests and other materials can obstruct the furnace flue, lowering oxygen. This leads to soot accumulation and improper ventilation, decreasing efficiency and increasing the risk of flame rollout. Flame rollout is when fire escapes the heat exchanger and burns the parts within your furnace. If this problem remains, your heating equipment could be badly damaged, and the fire can spread to areas outside the furnace.
Clogged Heat Exchanger
The heat exchanger is a restricted combustion chamber where the heat created by your furnace transfers to the air circulating throughout your home. A heat exchanger clogged up 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 take place if corrosion breaks the heat exchanger. First, it lowers suction within this chamber, leading to less airflow and increased flame rollout. Second, it emits fumes, including carbon monoxide, into your home. Breathing in 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.
Improper Gas Pressure
Furnaces depend on an accurate combination 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 within 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 burn. Such fires can easily spread to other areas.
How to Prevent Furnace Fires
Based on the different ways a furnace can combust, here are the steps you can take to prevent furnace fires:
- Change the air filter consistently: 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 take care of any you find.
- Don’t keep combustible items near the furnace: Things such as cardboard boxes, paper, clothing and other combustibles should be kept at a minimum 3 feet away from the furnace and any other heating equipment.
- Add a flame rollout switch: This safety system 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 causes a furnace fire.
- Schedule yearly furnace maintenance: It isn’t always easy to tell if your furnace is performing unsafely. Whether you notice warning signs or not, prioritize furnace maintenance every fall.
Schedule Furnace Services Today
Is it time for your annual tune-up? Do you need help resolving a problem with your furnace? Whatever the reason, Teays Valley Service Experts is here for you. Our HVAC experts can inspect, clean and test the system to provide safe operation. If anything doesn't seem right, we’ll suggest a repair or a modification, offering you peace of mind that your furnace is unlikely to catch fire. For more info or to schedule furnace maintenance, please contact your local Teays Valley Service Experts office