Around 55,000 heat equipment-related fires occur every year in US homes. While not all are directly related to the home’s furnace (about a third are related to space heaters), those that occurred in or around furnaces were often preventable. Furnace fire hazards are very real, but are easy to avoid if you develop an awareness of the things that contribute to them.
Four of the most common contributors to furnace fires include:
1) Too little clearance between the furnace unit and walls, ceilings, shelving or other appliances. There must be sufficient space between your furnace and the walls around it and the ceiling overhead. Otherwise they might become overheated which could result in a fire.
There is no universal distance (although a few inches is almost never sufficient) because it depends greatly on your type of furnace, where it is located in the house and what your local building code dictates. If you aren’t sure you can do two things. First, check the building code for your area. duct cleaning red deer Second, call in a furnace/HVAC repair person. A certified professional can tell you if you have a potential furnace fire hazard on your hands.
2) Items placed too close to the pilot light. One homeowner whose furnace was near her washing machine experienced a fire when a pile of laundry came into contact with the pilot light. Items like clothing are easily ignited. Always keep the area around the opening for the pilot light clear of any kind of debris or household items.
3) Combustible materials stored too close. Some materials don’t have to come into contact with the pilot light in order to ignite. Cleaning products, solvents and other similar products can emit vapors into the air. These vapors can’t be seen so a home owner will never know they’re there. The pilot light or even just the heat from the furnace may ignite these vapors and lead to a fire or a devastating explosion.
4) Dirty parts and clogged filters. Professional furnace and HVAC technicians recommend an annual furnace cleaning. This will remove dust, debris and gunk that builds up inside of your furnace over time. If you go for a couple of years or more without getting a cleaning you run a significant risk of fire.
Your unit’s filter can also become a potential fire hazard. Your filter should be changed anywhere from every 3 months to once per year (about every 6 months is average) depending on the make and model of your unit. Filters are easy to change, and most homeowners can do this themselves. Filters are also inexpensive and well worth it when it comes to fire prevention.
A Word about Carbon Monoxide
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a clear, odorless gas. It is produced as a by-product of combustion. Your furnace naturally emits it, but a properly maintained heating system will vent it outside of your home.
When your furnace is dirty or your chimney or vents are blocked by debris or creosote build-up your unit will not be able to properly vent CO. Instead it will build up inside your home.
Carbon monoxide is poisonous. When breathed in it can immobilize and kill a person within minutes. Since it can’t be seen or smelled you can be overcome by it before you even realize there’s a problem.
Keeping your furnace properly maintained and cleaned will help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning at home. Installing a CO detector to detect the presence of carbon monoxide in your indoor air will alert you if carbon monoxide reaches dangerous levels inside your house.
A Word about Space Heaters
There’s no need to avoid using space heaters to prevent fire hazards. Modern space heaters are better designed and constructed than older versions. Many are designed to prevent heating coils coming in contact with flammable items and to turn off automatically if knocked over.
If you have an older model space heater it’s probably best to get rid of it and purchase a new one with modern, built-in safeguards like those described. To use it safely you need only follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully, including where it should be placed, how it should be plugged in and how much open space should be around it.