Can Furnaces Catch Fire

The return of low temperatures boosts your dependency on home heating equipment in the fall. If your furnace isn’t working properly, it may become a fire hazard and threaten your family’s safety.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), heating systems like furnaces are a leading factor of home fires, contributing to nearly 50,000 blazes, 500 civilian deaths and more than $1 billion in significant property damage every year. Space heaters and fireplaces generate most of the fires involving heating equipment, but central heaters, such as furnaces, are responsible for around 12% of these blazes. Learn the most likely causes of furnace fires and how to minimize them.

Causes of Furnace Fires

Old furnaces are more susceptible to safety problems since they could be manufactured differently and settle into disrepair over the years. Nevertheless, whether your furnace is more than a decade old or brand new, you should be aware of these causes of furnace fires.

Overheating Motor

A furnace motor can overheat in various ways. Here are the main risks: 
  • A clogged filter can restrict airflow and cause the motor to work harder. Eventually, the motor might overheat, elevating the risk of fire.
  • Dirt can gather around and insulate the motor, forcing it to retain heat, which can trigger a fire.
  • Exposed or damaged wiring can cause the voltage to increase too much, increasing the chances of an electrical fire.
  • Overly tight or worn motor bearings can heat up when the furnace starts. Without the proper lubrication, the bearings may eventually light on fire.

Blocked Furnace Flue

Yard debris, animal nests and other obstructions can clog the furnace flue, restricting oxygen. This causes soot building up and improper ventilation, decreasing efficiency and raising 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 continues, 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 moved to the air circulating through your home. A heat exchanger clogged 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

Several problems can take place if corrosion damages the heat exchanger. First, it reduces suction inside this chamber, resulting in less airflow and increased flame rollout. Second, it produces fumes, such as carbon monoxide, into your home. Breathing CO gas can be lethal, so never dismiss your carbon monoxide alarms. CO gas can also flash back to the source of the leak and ignite if a flame is present.

Improper Gas Pressure

Furnaces need an exact combination of natural gas and air to generate 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 produces unwanted condensation within the heat exchanger, increasing the rate of corrosion.
Conversely, high gas pressure can lead to 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 different ways a furnace can light on fire, here are the steps you can take to avoid furnace fires:

  • Replace the air filter on a regular basis: Check the filter monthly and change it when it appears dirty or every three months, whichever comes first.
  • Check the furnace flue: Examine the exterior vent for obstructions and take care of any you find.
  • Don’t keep combustible items near 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 device recognizes if a fire or hot exhaust gases are inside your furnace’s burner compartment. If the rollout switch triggers, have your furnace inspected as soon as possible to diagnose and repair the problem before it produces a furnace fire.
  • Request annual furnace maintenance: It isn’t always easy to tell if your furnace is performing unsafely. Whether you notice warning signs or not, remember furnace maintenance every fall.

Schedule Furnace Services Today

Is it time for your annual tune-up? Do you need help fixing a problem with your furnace? Whatever the reason, Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning is here for you. Our HVAC pros can inspect, clean and test the system to ensure safe operation. If anything seems off, we’ll perform 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 Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning office today.

 

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