Furnaces are designed to be safe, but sometimes, they can experience serious problems that lead to house fires and other dangerous situations. You need to understand the cause of these problems and how to avoid them so you can properly take care of your home HVAC system. By maintaining your furnace, you also protect your family and home from potentially deadly situations.
Furnaces and home heating equipment were responsible for about 15 percent of household fires from 2011 to 2015, and these fires caused almost 1 in 5 fire-related deaths. So you need to protect your home from furnace fires.
What Causes Furnace Fires?
Furnace fires can be caused by a variety of malfunctions, depending on the type of system installed in the home. Furnaces often burn fuel and force warm air through the home. Any time fuel is being burned and combustion is taking place, there's the potential for a house fire. Common causes of furnace fires include:
- Unintentional ignition of dust in the air around the heat chamber
- Excessive buildup of heat inside the heat chamber
- Buildup of gas or fuel, causing an explosion
How Can Furnace Fires Be Prevented?
Watch for signs of a potential problem. You should never see charring or soot on the outside of your furnace, and if you do, turn off the unit and call for an HVAC person as soon as possible. Also, if your furnace turns on but blows only cold air, turn off the system. It could be producing heat which isn't being distributed.
Keep the area around your furnace clear of all debris and clutter. Give your furnace plenty of air flow, and avoid placing anything combustible (like paint thinners or gasoline) in the same room with the furnace.
Replace your HVAC air filter every three months (or more often if it's getting dirty fast). Finally, have an HVAC professional service your furnace on an annual basis, before starting up the heater for the winter.
2. Gas or Carbon Monoxide Leak
Gas leaks from your furnace can cause a buildup of very flammable gas inside the house, leading to an explosion. Carbon monoxide leaks cause a buildup of an unscented gas that can cause death if it's not caught and addressed as soon as possible.
What Causes Gas or Carbon Monoxide Leaks?
Gas leaks are caused by a cracked heat exchanger. Carbon monoxide leaks occur when the vent that's supposed to release carbon monoxide into the air develops a crack or a leak.
How Can These Leaks Be Prevented?
The best way to prevent gas and carbon monoxide leaks is to have the furnace serviced regularly by an HVAC professional. You can also protect yourself by installing carbon monoxide detectors in the home and changing the batteries regularly. Put carbon monoxide detectors at various places in the house, including in the area near the furnace.
If you smell gas in your house and the smell seems to be coming from your air vents, leave the house. You may open some windows on your way out the door, and but don't dawdle as you exit. Leave your door open to ventilate your home. Once you're outside, you can open up any other exterior doors to keep fresh air moving through the house.
Call your gas company right away, and then contact an HVAC professional. If you know how to shut off the gas from outside your house, you may do so. Your gas company may be able to give you directions that can help you.
If you have more questions about how you can protect yourself from dangerous furnace malfunctions, contact an expert in your area. At Riverside Heating and Air Conditioning, we're happy to answer homeowner questions that can help you stay safe throughout the heating season.