The return of cold temperatures boosts your dependence on home heating equipment each fall. If your furnace isn’t working properly, it could develop into a fire hazard and threaten your family’s safety.
As stated by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), heating systems like furnaces are a leading cause of home fires, leading to nearly 50,000 blazes, 500 civilian deaths and more than $1 billion in direct property damage each year. Space heaters and fireplaces generate most of the fires affecting heating equipment, but central heaters, including furnaces, are liable for about 12% of these blazes. Learn the primary causes of furnace fires and how to minimize them.
Causes of Furnace Fires
Old furnaces are more exposed to safety problems as they could be manufactured differently and slide into disrepair through the years. That being said, whether your furnace is more than a decade old or brand new, you should be aware of these causes of furnace fires.
An Overheated Motor
A furnace motor can overheat in several ways. Here are the main risks:
- A clogged filter can restrict airflow and cause the motor to work harder. At some point, the motor might overheat, raising the risk of fire.
- Dirt can gather around and insulate the motor, forcing it to hold heat, which can lead to a fire.
- Exposed or damaged wiring can cause the voltage to elevate, increasing the likelihood of an electrical fire.
- Excessively tight or worn motor bearings can heat up when the furnace is on. Without the appropriate lubrication, the bearings could eventually catch fire.
Clogged Furnace Flue
Yard debris, animal nests and other materials can block the furnace flue, restricting oxygen. This results in soot buildup and improper ventilation, lowering 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 persists, your heating equipment can be badly 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 transfers to the air circulating within your home. A heat exchanger clogged up with soot or corrosion has the same result as a blocked furnace flue—reduced performance and a higher risk of flame rollout.
Cracked Heat Exchanger
Numerous problems occur if corrosion cracks the heat exchanger. First, it reduces suction within this chamber, resulting in less airflow and increased flame rollout. Second, it emits fumes, such as carbon monoxide, into your home. Inhaling 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 found.
Inadequate Gas Pressure
Furnaces depend on an exact 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 leads to 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 burn. Such fires can quickly spread to other areas.
How to Prevent Furnace Fires
Based on the listed ways a furnace can combust, 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.
- Keep an eye on the furnace flue: Examine the exterior vent for obstructions and remove any you find.
- Don’t place combustible items around 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.
- Put in a flame rollout switch: This safety component recognizes 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 causes a furnace fire.
- Request yearly furnace maintenance: It isn’t always easy to notice if your furnace is performing 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 taking care of a problem with your furnace? Whatever the reason, Gordon's 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, 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 Gordon's Service Experts office