Can Furnaces Catch Fire?

The return of low temperatures raises your reliance on home heating equipment every fall. If your furnace isn’t functioning correctly, it might grow to be a fire hazard and endanger your family’s safety. 

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), heating systems like furnaces are a top source of home fires, causing almost 50,000 blazes, 500 civilian deaths and more than $1 billion in significant property damage every year. Space heaters and fireplaces start most of the fires concerning heating equipment, but central heaters, such as furnaces, are responsible 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 vulnerable to safety problems because they may be manufactured differently and settle 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. 

Overheating Motor

A furnace motor can overheat in several ways. Here are the main risks:  

  • A clogged filter can impede airflow and cause the motor to work longer. Eventually, the motor may overheat, increasing the risk of fire. 
  • Dirt can accumulate around and insulate the motor, forcing it to absorb heat, which can cause a fire. 
  • Exposed or damaged wiring can cause the voltage to increase too much, increasing the chances of an electrical fire. 
  • Excessively tight or worn motor bearings can heat up whenever the furnace is on. Without the proper lubrication, the bearings may eventually catch fire. 

Blocked Furnace Flue 

Yard waste, animal nests and other materials can block the furnace flue, reducing oxygen. This leads to soot accumulation and bad ventilation, decreasing efficiency and raising the risk of flame rollout. Flame rollout is when fire reaches past the heat exchanger and burns the parts in your furnace. If this problem persists, your heating equipment can be severely damaged, and the fire could spread to areas outside the furnace. 

Obstructed Heat Exchanger 

The heat exchanger is a restricted combustion chamber where the heat generated by your furnace is exchanged 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 

Various problems can take place if corrosion cracks the heat exchanger. First, it affects suction within this chamber, triggering less airflow and increased flame rollout. Second, it emits fumes, like 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. 

Inadequate Gas Pressure 

Furnaces depend on an exact combination of natural gas and air to produce 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 in the heat exchanger, increasing the rate of corrosion. 

On the other hand, high gas pressure can create excessive heat within the furnace, which can cause the soot inside the heat exchanger to ignite. Such fires can readily spread to other areas. 

How to Prevent Furnace Fires 

Based on the different ways a furnace can combust, here are the steps you can take to prevent furnace fires: 

  • Change the air filter consistently: Check the filter once a month and change it when it looks dirty or every three months, whichever comes first. 
  • Check the furnace flue: Examine the exterior vent for obstructions and remove any you find. 
  • Don’t keep combustible items around the furnace: Things including 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 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 causes a furnace fire. 
  • Request annual furnace maintenance: It isn’t always easy to recognize 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 annual tune-up? Do you need help resolving a problem with your furnace? Whatever the reason, Norrell Service Experts is here for you. Our HVAC professionals can inspect, clean and test the system to ensure safe operation. If anything doesn’t seem right, we’ll suggest a repair or a modification, offering you peace of mind that your furnace is unlikely to catch fire. For more details or to schedule furnace maintenance, please contact your local Norrell Service Experts office today. 

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