The return of cooler temperatures increases your reliance on home heating equipment every fall. If your furnace isn’t functioning properly, it could become a fire hazard and endanger your family’s safety.
As reported by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), heating systems like furnaces are a top factor of home fires, leading to approximately 50,000 blazes, 500 civilian deaths and more than $1 billion in direct property damage annually. Space heaters and fireplaces generate the majority of fires involving heating equipment, but central heaters, such as furnaces, are accountable for around 12% of these blazes. Learn the most likely causes of furnace fires and how to prevent them.
Causes of Furnace Fires
Old furnaces are more vulnerable to safety hazards because they may be manufactured 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 know about these causes of furnace fires.
An Overheated Motor
A furnace motor can overheat in several ways. Here are the most common 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 gather around and insulate the motor, forcing it to retain heat, which can lead to a fire.
- Exposed or damaged wiring can cause the voltage to increase too much, increasing the chances of an electrical fire.
- Overly tight or damaged motor bearings can heat up whenever the furnace runs. Without the proper lubrication, the bearings can eventually light on fire.
Blocked Furnace Flue
Yard waste, animal nests and other materials can obstruct the furnace flue, restricting oxygen. This causes soot accumulation and improper ventilation, lowering 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 continues, your heating equipment can be seriously damaged, and the fire could spread to areas outside the furnace.
Obstructed Heat Exchanger
The heat exchanger is a sealed combustion chamber where the heat generated by your furnace transfers to the air circulating within your home. A heat exchanger blocked with soot or corrosion has the same result as a blocked furnace flue—reduced performance and an increased risk of flame rollout.
Cracked Heat Exchanger
Numerous problems can take place if corrosion breaks the heat exchanger. First, it lowers suction in this chamber, leading to less airflow and increased flame rollout. Second, it emits fumes, such as carbon monoxide, into your home. Breathing 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 require 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 causes unwanted condensation within the heat exchanger, increasing the rate of corrosion.
On the other hand, high gas pressure can lead to excessive heat within the furnace, which can cause the soot inside the heat exchanger to burn. 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:
- Change 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 take care of any you find.
- Don’t keep combustible items around 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.
- 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 as soon as possible to diagnose and repair the problem before it results in a furnace fire.
- Request annual furnace maintenance: It isn’t always easy to notice if your furnace is operating 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 is happening, Fras-Air/General Service Experts is here for you. Our HVAC experts can inspect, clean and test the system to guarantee safe operation. If anything looks out of place, we’ll perform a repair or a modification, providing you peace of mind that your furnace is unlikely to catch fire. For more details or to schedule furnace maintenance, please contact your local Fras-Air/General Service Experts office