The return of cold temperatures raises your reliance on home heating equipment each fall. If your furnace isn’t working correctly, it may 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 factor of home fires, causing almost 50,000 blazes, 500 civilian deaths and more than $1 billion in significant property damage annually. Space heaters and fireplaces cause the majority of fires concerning heating equipment, but central heaters, including furnaces, are accountable for about 12% of these blazes. Find out more about the most likely causes of furnace fires and how to avoid them.
Causes of Furnace Fires
Old furnaces are more vulnerable to safety concerns because they may be designed differently and settle into disrepair through the years. Nevertheless, 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 different ways. Here are the biggest risks:
- A clogged filter can block airflow and cause the motor to work harder. Sooner or later, the motor may overheat, increasing the risk of fire.
- Dirt can collect around and coat the motor, forcing it to retain heat, which can trigger a fire.
- Exposed or corroded wiring can cause the voltage to get too high, increasing the likelihood of an electrical fire.
- Excessively tight or damaged motor bearings can heat up as the furnace runs. Without the appropriate lubrication, the bearings can eventually catch fire.
Obstructed Furnace Flue
Yard waste, animal nests and other materials can clog the furnace flue, restricting oxygen. This leads to soot buildup and improper ventilation, lowering efficiency and raising the risk of flame rollout. Flame rollout is when fire gets out of the heat exchanger and burns the parts inside your furnace. If this problem remains, your heating equipment can be severely damaged, and the fire may even spread to areas outside the furnace.
Clogged Heat Exchanger
The heat exchanger is a restricted combustion chamber where the heat generated by your furnace transfers to the air circulating through your home. A heat exchanger clogged with soot or corrosion has the same effect as a blocked furnace flue—reduced performance and a bigger risk of flame rollout.
Cracked Heat Exchanger
Various problems can happen if corrosion breaks the heat exchanger. First, it reduces suction within this chamber, leading to less airflow and increased flame rollout. Second, it produces fumes, such as carbon monoxide, into your home. Breathing in CO gas can be fatal, so never neglect your carbon monoxide alarms. CO gas can also return to the source of the leak and ignite if a flame is lit.
Inadequate Gas Pressure
Furnaces need a precise combination of natural gas and air to produce 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.
Conversely, high gas pressure can lead to excessive heat inside 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 various ways a furnace can light on fire, here are the steps you can take to avoid 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: Inspect the exterior vent for obstructions and remove any you find.
- Don’t place combustible items close to the furnace: Things like cardboard boxes, paper, clothing and other combustibles should be kept more than 3 feet away from the furnace and any other heating equipment.
- Put in a flame rollout switch: This safety component detects if a fire or hot exhaust gases are inside your furnace’s burner compartment. If the rollout switch triggers, have your furnace inspected promptly to diagnose and repair the problem before it causes a furnace fire.
- Request yearly furnace maintenance: It isn’t always easy to tell 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 taking care of a problem with your furnace? Whatever the reason, McElroy Service Experts is here for you. Our HVAC professionals can inspect, clean and test the system to ensure safe operation. If anything looks out of place, 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 McElroy Service Experts office