The return of cold temperatures raises your dependence on home heating equipment every fall. If your furnace isn’t functioning correctly, it could develop into a fire hazard and endanger your family’s safety.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), heating equipment is a major cause of home fires, leading to almost 50,000 blazes, 500 civilian deaths and more than $1 billion in significant property damage each year. Space heaters and fireplaces cause the majority of fires concerning heating equipment, but central heaters, such as furnaces, are liable for about 12% of these blazes. Find out more about the leading causes of furnace fires and how to prevent them.
Causes of Furnace Fires
Aging furnaces are more susceptible to safety problems 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 be familiar with these causes of furnace fires.
An Overheated Motor
A furnace motor can overheat in different ways. Here are the main risks:
- A clogged filter can block airflow and cause the motor to work more. At some point, the motor might overheat, increasing the risk of fire.
- Dirt can gather around and insulate the motor, forcing it to absorb 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 when the furnace starts. Without the appropriate lubrication, the bearings could eventually light on fire.
Clogged Furnace Flue
Yard debris, animal nests and other materials can block the furnace flue, lowering oxygen. This causes soot buildup and bad 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 inside your furnace. If this problem persists, your heating equipment could be seriously damaged, and the fire could spread to areas outside the furnace.
Obstructed Heat Exchanger
The heat exchanger is a closed combustion chamber where the heat produced by your furnace transfers to the air circulating throughout your home. A heat exchanger clogged 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
Several problems occur if corrosion breaks the heat exchanger. First, it reduces suction in this chamber, triggering less airflow and increased flame rollout. Second, it releases fumes, including carbon monoxide, into your home. Breathing CO gas can be deadly, so never neglect your carbon monoxide alarms. CO gas can also return to the source of the leak and ignite if a flame is present.
Improper Gas Pressure
Furnaces require an exact combination of natural gas and air to produce 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 leads to unwanted condensation inside the heat exchanger, accelerating the rate of corrosion.
Conversely, high gas pressure can create excessive heat in the furnace, which can cause the soot inside the heat exchanger to ignite. Such fires can quickly 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 avoid furnace fires:
- Change the air filter consistently: Check the filter monthly and change it when it seems dirty or every three months, whichever comes first.
- Keep an eye on the furnace flue: Periodically check the exterior vent for obstructions and clear out any you find.
- Don’t store combustible items near the furnace: Things including cardboard boxes, paper, clothing and other combustibles should be kept at least 3 feet away from the furnace and all other heating equipment.
- Add 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 right away to diagnose and repair the problem before it produces a furnace fire.
- Schedule yearly furnace maintenance: It isn’t always easy to notice if your furnace is operating 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 case, Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning is here for you. Our HVAC professionals can inspect, clean and test the system to guarantee safe operation. If anything seems off, we’ll recommend a repair or a modification, giving you peace of mind that your furnace is unlikely to catch fire. For more details or to schedule furnace maintenance, please contact your local Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office