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Can Furnaces Catch Fire?

The return of cold temperatures raises your dependency on home heating equipment every fall. If your furnace isn’t working properly, it might become a fire hazard and threaten your family’s safety. 

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), heating systems are a leading cause of home fires, leading to almost 50,000 blazes, 500 civilian deaths and more than $1 billion in direct property damage annually. Space heaters and fireplaces start most of the fires affecting heating equipment, but central heaters, such as furnaces, are liable 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 susceptible to safety problems because they might be manufactured 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. 

Overheated Motor

A furnace motor can overheat in various ways. Here are the most common risks:  

  • A clogged filter can impede airflow and cause the motor to work harder. Sooner or later, the motor might overheat, elevating the risk of fire. 
  • Dirt can gather around and insulate the motor, forcing it to retain heat, which can lead to a fire. 
  • Exposed or corroded wiring can cause the voltage to get too high, increasing the chances of an electrical fire. 
  • Overly tight or worn motor bearings can heat up when the furnace runs. Without adequate lubrication, the bearings may eventually catch fire. 

Obstructed Furnace Flue 

Yard waste, animal nests and other obstructions can block the furnace flue, reducing oxygen. This causes soot accumulation 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 in your furnace. If this problem remains, your heating equipment can be seriously damaged, and the fire can spread to areas outside the furnace. 

Clogged Heat Exchanger 

The heat exchanger is a sealed 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 effect as a blocked furnace flue—reduced performance and a higher risk of flame rollout. 

Cracked Heat Exchanger 

Numerous problems can happen if corrosion damages the heat exchanger. First, it lowers suction inside this chamber, leading to less airflow and increased flame rollout. Second, it releases fumes, such as carbon monoxide, into your home. Inhaling CO gas can be deadly, so never dismiss your carbon monoxide alarms. CO gas can also return to the source of the leak and ignite if a flame is found. 

Inadequate Gas Pressure 

Furnaces require an accurate mixture of natural gas and air to create 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 causes unwanted condensation within 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 readily spread to other areas. 

How to Prevent Furnace Fires 

Based on the various 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 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 clear out any you find. 
  • Don’t place combustible items around the furnace: Things like cardboard boxes, paper, clothing and other combustibles should be kept at least 3 feet away from the furnace and any other heating equipment. 
  • Install 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 trips, have your furnace inspected right away to diagnose and repair the problem before it results in a furnace fire. 
  • Schedule annual furnace maintenance: It isn’t always easy to recognize 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 case, Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing is here for you. Our HVAC experts can inspect, clean and test the system to provide safe operation. If anything seems off, we’ll perform a repair or a modification, giving you peace of mind that your furnace is unlikely to catch fire. For more info or to schedule furnace maintenance, please contact your local Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing office today. 

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