An oil furnace is an effective way to heat your home, but these heating appliances do come with their own risks and hazards. A well maintained, clean oil furnace runs better and has less of a chance to malfunction than one that is old and poorly maintained. Having your oil furnace serviced and checked once a year is a good way to avoid many of these hazards.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be caused by an oil furnace that is not properly vented or not receiving enough air for full combustion. Homeowners have been sealing up drafts in their home to save energy, but this also lowers the amount of fresh air entering a home to displace toxic carbon monoxide. Blocked and damaged chimneys, including flues with heavy soot build-up, do not provide adequate ventilation for a high efficiency oil furnace. Keeping your furnace vents clean and repaired and having your home regularly tested for carbon monoxide can protect you and your family from serious health problems.
A back fire, or puff back, occurs when oil builds up in the combustion chamber in excess before the ignition can turn on. When the ignition does light, the excess oil explodes and blows soot and oil fumes through the duct work. This explosion can damage the combustion chamber, ignition system or the duct work. Back fires indicate a serious issue with your oil furnace that can turn into a chimney fire or internal fire if not promptly repaired. If possible, shut off your furnace after a back fire and don't turn it back on until it's been serviced.
A chimney fire is the most serious hazard an oil furnace can create. Fire shoots through the chimney vents from the furnace combustion box, possibly igniting walls and other combustible materials around the chimney. Flames also shoot out of the chimney vent, and a loud train noise and strong rumbling accompany them. A chimney fire is a serious emergency, and everyone should evacuate the home or building if it occurs. Keeping your chimney and air filter clean and maintained can prevent this dangerous hazard.
High efficiency oil furnaces may create a lot of noise due to high speed motors. Some homeowners or building maintenance workers may build an insulated box around the furnace to muffle this noise. This may quiet the noise for a short time, but this severely limits the amount of air reaching the combustion chamber and circulating around the unit to cool it. Most oil furnaces have emergency shut off switches that cut the unit off if it reaches a certain temperature. However, an older unit or one with damaged wiring may continue to run, create extremely high temperatures that can cause explosions, fires and other dangerous situations.
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