Can Furnaces Catch Fire

The return of cooler temperatures boosts your dependence on home heating equipment every fall. If your furnace isn’t operating correctly, it might become a fire hazard and endanger your family’s safety.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), heating equipment is a leading source of home fires, leading to nearly 50,000 blazes, 500 civilian deaths and more than $1 billion in direct property damage every year. Space heaters and fireplaces generate the majority of fires involving heating equipment, but central heaters, such as furnaces, are accountable for about 12% of these blazes. Learn more about the leading causes of furnace fires and how to prevent them.

Causes of Furnace Fires

Aging furnaces are more exposed to safety concerns because 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 familiar with these causes of furnace fires.

Overheating Motor

A furnace motor can overheat in different ways. Here are the biggest risks: 
  • A clogged filter can impede airflow and force the motor to work longer. Eventually, the motor might overheat, elevating the risk of fire.
  • Dirt can gather around and insulate the motor, forcing it to absorb heat, which can cause a fire.
  • Exposed or corroded wiring can cause the voltage to get too high, increasing the chances of an electrical fire.
  • Overly tight or damaged motor bearings can heat up when the furnace starts. Without the proper lubrication, the bearings can eventually catch fire.

Blocked Furnace Flue

Yard debris, animal nests and other obstructions can obstruct the furnace flue, restricting oxygen. This results in soot buildup and bad ventilation, decreasing efficiency and increasing the risk of flame rollout. Flame rollout is when fire reaches past the heat exchanger and burns the parts inside your furnace. If this problem continues, your heating equipment can be severely damaged, and the fire can spread to areas outside the furnace.

Clogged Heat Exchanger

The heat exchanger is a restricted combustion chamber where the heat produced by your furnace transfers to the air circulating through your home. A heat exchanger clogged up 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

Several problems can happen if corrosion damages the heat exchanger. First, it lowers suction within this chamber, leading to less airflow and increased flame rollout. Second, it produces fumes, including carbon monoxide, into your home. Inhaling CO gas can be lethal, 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.

Improper Gas Pressure

Furnaces depend on an accurate combination of natural gas and air to ensure 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 in the heat exchanger, increasing the rate of corrosion.
Conversely, 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 combust, 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 seems 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 at a minimum 3 feet away from the furnace and all other heating equipment.
  • Put in a flame rollout switch: This safety device 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 produces a furnace fire.
  • Schedule yearly 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 resolving a problem with your furnace? Whatever the reason, Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning is here for you. Our HVAC professionals can inspect, clean and test the system to provide safe operation. If anything doesn't seem right, we’ll perform 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 Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office today.

 

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