Can Furnaces Catch Fire

The return of low temperatures increases your dependence on home heating equipment every fall. If your furnace isn’t functioning properly, it could grow to be 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, contributing to almost 50,000 blazes, 500 civilian deaths and more than $1 billion in direct property damage each year. Space heaters and fireplaces start most of the fires concerning heating equipment, but central heaters, including furnaces, are liable for about 12% of these blazes. Learn more about the most likely causes of furnace fires and how to avoid them.

Causes of Furnace Fires

Aging furnaces are more exposed to safety hazards because they could be manufactured differently and fall 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 various ways. Here are the biggest risks: 
  • A clogged filter can impede airflow and force the motor to work longer. Sooner or later, the motor may overheat, raising 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 corroded wiring can cause the voltage to get too high, increasing the risk of an electrical fire.
  • Excessively tight or damaged motor bearings can heat up when the furnace starts. Without the appropriate lubrication, the bearings can eventually catch fire.

Clogged Furnace Flue

Yard debris, animal nests and other materials can clog the furnace flue, restricting oxygen. This results in soot building up and weaker ventilation, lowering efficiency and raising 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 continues, your heating equipment may 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 is exchanged to the air circulating through your home. A heat exchanger clogged up 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

Various problems can take place if corrosion cracks the heat exchanger. First, it reduces suction in this chamber, leading to less airflow and increased flame rollout. Second, it releases fumes, including carbon monoxide, into your home. Breathing in CO gas can be lethal, so never ignore your carbon monoxide alarms. CO gas can also flash back to the source of the leak and ignite if a flame is found.

Improper Gas Pressure

Furnaces need a precise 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 produces unwanted condensation within the heat exchanger, accelerating 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 burn. 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:

  • Replace the air filter on a regular basis: Check the filter once a month and change it when it appears 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 store combustible items near the furnace: Things such as cardboard boxes, paper, clothing and other combustibles should be kept more than 3 feet away from the furnace and any other heating equipment.
  • Install a flame rollout switch: This safety system detects if a fire or hot exhaust gases are inside your furnace’s burner compartment. If the rollout switch trips, have your furnace inspected promptly to diagnose and repair the problem before it produces 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, don't forget furnace maintenance every fall.

Schedule Furnace Services Today

Is it time for your yearly tune-up? Do you need help fixing a problem with your furnace? Whatever is happening, Roland J. Down Service Experts is here for you. Our HVAC pros can inspect, clean and test the system to guarantee 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 Roland J. Down Service Experts office today.

 

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