The return of cold temperatures raises your dependence on home heating equipment each fall. If your furnace isn’t functioning properly, it could become a fire hazard and endanger your family’s safety.
As stated by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), heating equipment is a top source of home fires, causing nearly 50,000 blazes, 500 civilian deaths and more than $1 billion in significant property damage annually. Space heaters and fireplaces start the majority of fires affecting heating equipment, but central heaters, like furnaces, are responsible for around 12% of these blazes. Find out more about the leading causes of furnace fires and how to minimize them.
Causes of Furnace Fires
Aging furnaces are more exposed to safety concerns as they might be designed differently and slide 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.
A furnace motor can overheat in several ways. Here are the main risks:
- A clogged filter can impede airflow and cause the motor to work longer. At some point, the motor can overheat, elevating the risk of fire.
- Dirt can accumulate around and coat the motor, forcing it to absorb heat, which can lead to a fire.
- Exposed or corroded wiring can cause the voltage to increase too much, increasing the likelihood of an electrical fire.
- Overly tight or damaged motor bearings can heat up when the furnace runs. Without the proper lubrication, the bearings may eventually catch fire.
Clogged Furnace Flue
Yard debris, animal nests and other materials can obstruct the furnace flue, reducing oxygen. This leads to soot buildup and bad ventilation, limiting efficiency and increasing the risk of flame rollout. Flame rollout is when fire gets out of the heat exchanger and burns the parts within your furnace. If this problem continues, your heating equipment may be seriously damaged, and the fire could spread to areas outside the furnace.
Clogged Heat Exchanger
The heat exchanger is a restricted combustion chamber where the heat created by your furnace is exchanged to the air circulating throughout your home. A heat exchanger blocked 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
Various problems can happen if corrosion cracks the heat exchanger. First, it reduces suction within this chamber, leading to less airflow and increased flame rollout. Second, it produces fumes, like carbon monoxide, into your home. Breathing 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 present.
Inadequate Gas Pressure
Furnaces need a precise combination of natural gas and air to generate 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 create excessive heat within the furnace, which can cause the soot inside the heat exchanger to combust. Such fires can readily 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 prevent furnace fires:
- Replace the air filter regularly: Check the filter each month and change it when it looks dirty or every three months, whichever comes first.
- Check the furnace flue: Periodically check the exterior vent for obstructions and remove any you find.
- Don’t store combustible items near 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.
- 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 trips, have your furnace inspected as soon as possible to diagnose and repair the problem before it causes a furnace fire.
- Request yearly furnace maintenance: It isn’t always easy to notice if your furnace is working unsafely. Whether you notice warning signs or not, prioritize 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 is happening, Becht/Givens Service Experts is here for you. Our HVAC pros can inspect, clean and test the system to provide safe operation. If anything seems off, we’ll recommend 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 Becht/Givens Service Experts office