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Common Causes of Heating and Cooling System Fires

Home » Blog » Common Causes of Heating and Cooling System Fires
Posted October 15, 2018

It may surprise you to know that the second leading cause of home fires involves heating equipment. And air conditioners and heat pumps are comparable in the numbers of fires, so it’s important to be aware of potential problems related to both systems before they become actual fires. Here are some things to consider:

Lack of maintenance

When your heating and cooling system is not regularly maintained, there can be an increased risk of fire. For example, if filters get too dirty and clogged, the airflow will be restricted, and the motors can overheat. If dirt collects around the motor it can act as insulation and cause the motor to heat up. You may have faulty parts or wiring resulting in too high voltage or tight bearing. There may be tight or worn motor bearings from a lack of lubrication, and this can catch heat when dry and could eventually catch fire.

Storing flammable materials nearby

Combustible materials like paper, furniture, drapery, clothing, pillows, leaves, or gasoline should never be kept close to your heating or cooling equipment. The risk is too great; you should leave at least a 3-foot barrier between any type of heating equipment and flammable things.

Careless handling of space heaters

FEMA reports that heating appliances were the second highest cause of residential fires in 2014, so it’s important to operate these items according to safety guidelines. Never use an extension cord with a space heater, keep them away from flammable objects, and power them down before you leave the house or retire for the evening. The National Fire Protection Association provides additional safety tips on space heaters.

Chimney build up

If you have a wood-burning stove or fireplace, there’s a very combustible substance called creosote which builds up along the inside of your chimney over time. It’s extremely important to have it professionally cleaned at least once a year.

Furnace flame rollouts

Flames can actually escape and roll out of a closed combustion area. It happens when there isn’t enough oxygen provided by the ventilation to feed the furnace. Sometimes a clogged air filter can contribute to soot buildup in the flue which would restrict oxygen supply, as would an obstruction like a bird’s nest or yard debris clogging the outside vent. If you’re seeing singed components on the outside or discoloration on your furnace cover, you need to contact an HVAC professional right away.

It’s best to hope for the best and plan for the worst, so always keep a fire extinguisher handy in your kitchen and near any major heat sources. Also, make sure every floor of your home has a working smoke detector. And it’s an especially good idea to have your heating and cooling systems regularly maintained by certified HVAC professionals—it can save money in the long haul, and preventing fires saves lives.


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