Can Furnaces Catch Fire?

The return of cooler temperatures raises your reliance on home heating equipment each fall. If your furnace isn’t functioning properly, it might become a fire hazard and jeopardize your family’s safety. 

As reported by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), heating equipment is a major cause of home fires, causing approximately 50,000 blazes, 500 civilian deaths and more than $1 billion in significant property damage annually. Space heaters and fireplaces generate most of the fires involving heating equipment, but central heaters, including furnaces, are accountable for about 12% of these blazes. Learn more about the leading causes of furnace fires and how to avoid them. 

Causes of Furnace Fires

Older furnaces are more exposed to safety problems as they could be designed differently and fall into disrepair through the years. Still, 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 different ways. Here are the biggest risks:  

  • A clogged filter can block airflow and force the motor to work longer. Eventually, the motor can overheat, elevating the risk of fire. 
  • Dirt can accumulate around and insulate the motor, forcing it to retain heat, which can lead to a fire. 
  • Exposed or deteriorated wiring can cause the voltage to get too high, increasing the likelihood of an electrical fire. 
  • Overly tight or damaged motor bearings can heat up when the furnace runs. Without the proper lubrication, the bearings may eventually light on fire. 

Clogged Furnace Flue 

Yard debris, animal nests and other materials can clog the furnace flue, reducing oxygen. This results in soot accumulation 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 within your furnace. If this problem continues, your heating equipment could be badly 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 exchanged to the air circulating throughout your home. A heat exchanger clogged up with soot or corrosion has the same impact as a blocked furnace flue—reduced performance and a higher risk of flame rollout. 

Cracked Heat Exchanger 

Numerous problems occur if corrosion damages the heat exchanger. First, it affects suction inside this chamber, leading to less airflow and increased flame rollout. Second, it produces fumes, like carbon monoxide, into your home. Inhaling 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. 

Improper Gas Pressure 

Furnaces need an accurate mixture 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 causes 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 combust. Such fires can readily spread to other areas. 

How to Prevent Furnace Fires 

Based on the listed ways a furnace can light on fire, here are the steps you can take to avoid furnace fires: 

  • Replace the air filter consistently: Check the filter monthly and change it when it seems 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 place combustible items around the furnace: Things like cardboard boxes, paper, clothing and other combustibles should be kept at least 3 feet away from the furnace and all 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 results in a furnace fire. 
  • Schedule yearly furnace maintenance: It isn’t always easy to notice 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 yearly tune-up? Do you need help fixing a problem with your furnace? Whatever the case, 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 doesn’t seem right, we’ll recommend a repair or a modification, giving you peace of mind that your furnace is unlikely to catch fire. For more details or to schedule furnace maintenance, please contact your local Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing office today. 

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