Can Furnaces Catch Fire?

The return of cold temperatures increases your dependence on home heating equipment each fall. If your furnace isn’t operating properly, it could become a fire hazard and endanger your family’s safety. 

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), heating equipment is a leading factor of home fires, contributing to approximately 50,000 blazes, 500 civilian deaths and more than $1 billion in direct property damage every year. Space heaters and fireplaces start most of the fires involving heating equipment, but central heaters, such as furnaces, are responsible for just about 12% of these blazes. Find out more about the most likely causes of furnace fires and how to avoid them. 

Causes of Furnace Fires

Old furnaces are more exposed to safety hazards as they may be designed differently and settle into disrepair over the years. Still, whether your furnace is more than a decade old or brand new, you should be aware of 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 restrict airflow and cause the motor to work harder. Sooner or later, the motor can overheat, increasing the risk of fire. 
  • Dirt can accumulate around and insulate the motor, forcing it to hold heat, which can cause a fire. 
  • Exposed or deteriorated wiring can cause the voltage to get too high, increasing the risk of an electrical fire. 
  • Overly tight or damaged motor bearings can heat up whenever the furnace runs. Without adequate lubrication, the bearings could eventually catch fire. 

Blocked Furnace Flue 

Yard debris, animal nests and other obstructions can obstruct the furnace flue, restricting oxygen. This results in soot accumulation and weaker ventilation, limiting efficiency and increasing the risk of flame rollout. Flame rollout is when fire escapes the heat exchanger and burns the parts inside your furnace. If this problem remains, 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 sealed combustion chamber where the heat generated by your furnace is moved to the air circulating throughout your home. A heat exchanger clogged up with soot or corrosion has the same effect as a blocked furnace flue—reduced performance and an increased risk of flame rollout. 

Cracked Heat Exchanger 

Numerous problems can take place if corrosion breaks the heat exchanger. First, it affects suction in this chamber, leading to less airflow and increased flame rollout. Second, it emits fumes, such as carbon monoxide, into your home. Inhaling CO gas can be deadly, so never ignore your carbon monoxide alarms. CO gas can also return to the source of the leak and ignite if a flame is lit. 

Inadequate Gas Pressure 

Furnaces require a precise 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 within the heat exchanger, increasing the rate of corrosion. 

Conversely, high gas pressure can produce excessive heat within the furnace, which can cause the soot inside the heat exchanger to combust. Such fires can easily 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 prevent furnace fires: 

  • Change 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. 
  • Keep an eye on the furnace flue: Examine the exterior vent for obstructions and remove any you find. 
  • Don’t place combustible items near the furnace: Things including 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 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 as soon as possible to diagnose and repair the problem before it causes a furnace fire. 
  • Request yearly furnace maintenance: It isn’t always easy to recognize if your furnace is operating unsafely. Whether you notice warning signs or not, remember 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 is happening, Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing is here for you. Our HVAC experts can inspect, clean and test the system to guarantee safe operation. If anything looks out of place, we’ll perform a repair or a modification, providing you peace of mind that your furnace is unlikely to catch fire. For more info or to schedule furnace maintenance, please contact your local Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing office today. 

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