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Furnace Safety: Tips to Avoid Furnace Dangers

It’s that time of year again, when temperatures drop and the old furnace gets an intensive workout throughout the day, rather than just at night. In the cold of winter, it’s going to be several more months before the furnace gets a rest.

Unfortunately, this vital piece of home heating equipment isn’t always up to standard. According to the National Fire Protection Association, faulty home heating is the leading cause of residential fire incidents in the US, causing almost 500 civilian casualties and $1 billion in direct property damage. Almost half of such home fires occur during the deep winter months between December to February.

As your primary unit for home heating, it’s vitally important to keep your furnace up to spec. Fortunately, it’s pretty simple to keep on top of furnace maintenance and routine repairs to keep it running at its best. 

Here are a few tips to enhance furnace safety. A few of these you can perform at home, while others you should leave to a professional.

How Does a Furnace Work?

There are four main types of home furnaces: natural gas, oil, propane, and electric. The first three use a combustible fuel source, while electric furnaces use a heating element powered by electricity.  

When you adjust the thermostat on your furnace, an ignitor activates the gas burners that create heat in a combustion chamber. This warm air is then distributed through the ductwork by blowers and thus heats your house. 

In an electric furnace, instead of a pilot light, there is an electrical system which starts the heating process through conductive coils. As the current goes through the coils it creates heat, warming the air. From there, the hot air is blown outward into the ducts.

You can learn more about how furnaces work and the different types here.

Furnace Safety Features

Whether you have a gas or electric furnace, today’s furnaces come with a few safety features. These help protect your home from furnace fires, high energy bills, and fume buildup.

Here are the common safety features of most furnaces you should be familiar with: 

  • Furnace Safety Switch: The furnace safety switch, also known as the limit switch, measures the temperature of the heat outside the combustion chamber. When the switch detects flames or temps that are too high, this could mean a fire hazard. Once activated, the limit switch cuts off the furnace gas supply in order to keep potential flames from spreading and lowers the risk of carbon monoxide from leaking into your home. The furnace will need to be reset by a professional to be used again.
  • Thermocouple/Mercury Flame Sensor: Older furnace models are equipped with the former, while the latter comes with newer models. They both function much the same way – if the pilot light goes out or burns too weakly, the gas is automatically shut off to prevent leaks.
  • Air Pressure Switch: Newer furnaces are built with small fans (called draft inducers) that run after each heating cycle to remove excess gas from the combustion chamber. This fan is equipped with the air pressure switch that shuts off the gas supply if it detects too little air being blown by the inducer.

Keeping your home warm and toasty during the winter months is very important, as is furnace safety. Feel free to perform some simple troubleshooting at home, but if there’s any gas or burning smell, be sure to contact a professional right away.

Basic Gas Furnace Safety Tips

Natural gas is also the most popular type of home furnace, accounting for nearly half of all residential furnaces in the US. Gas furnaces are great if you’d like a more cost-efficient and even heating system, but they also come with their own set of safety issues. 

Here’s are ways to keep your gas furnace functioning safely, and when it might be best to contact a professional.

  • Schedule a furnace cleaning and check-up to be performed yearly by a NATE-certified technician. Request that s/he checks for cracks in the combustion chamber, as these cracks could allow carbon monoxide to leak into your home. This should be done before winter starts.
  • Change the air filter regularly. Dust particles can build-up on the furnace’s air filter and reduce efficient airflow and heating capabilities, as well becoming a fire-hazard or furnace failure potential in extreme instances of neglect. The air filter is usually located inside the front cover of your furnace, and should be changed before the winter season starts, and at least once every 1-3 months during regular use.
  • Don’t close off more than 20% of the furnace registers in your house. This can cause unnecessary heat build-up and affect the efficiency. Make sure to avoid obstructing registers as well, and keep them free of lint, dust, and pet hair by vacuuming them at least once a month.
  • Don’t store anything flammable or combustible near or around your furnace to avoid a furnace fire.
  • Keep the area around your furnace clean and unobstructed.
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector in your home, and check to make sure it’s working properly at least once a month during the winter season. Gas furnaces have a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning if they’re not functioning properly, but having a detector installed can help you stay on top of risks.
  • If your pilot light seems to go out often, make sure there aren’t any drafts preventing it from staying lit. If pilot light issues persist and it seems that the issues stem from the ignitor (or the pilot downright refuses to relight), call an expert.
  • If you detect a gas smell or suspect other gas feed or valve issues, call a professional.

Basic Electric Furnace Safety Tips

Among the different furnace types, electric furnaces are the least expensive to purchase and install and typically last up to 10 years longer than fuel-burning furnaces. They are a great solution for homeowners who want a system that’s relatively easy to maintain and requires less upkeep than a gas furnace. There’s also little to no chance of carbon monoxide poisoning, but electric furnaces require a little more energy to run. 

Making sure your electric furnace is running safely entails similar upkeep to that of a gas furnace, and couldn’t be simpler.

  • Much like a gas furnace, it’s a good idea to have your electric furnace serviced and cleaned at the start of the cold weather season to make sure it’s still functioning well and will perform at capacity for the next few months. Make sure the person you contact is NATE-certified.
  • As with a gas furnace, the air filter needs to be changed regularly. Every 3-4 months is recommended to maximize heating efficiency and prevent overheating issues.
  • Mechanical problems could be caused by something as simple as the internal mechanisms needing to be oiled and cleaned, or it could be something more complicated. Call a professional to handle those issues.
  • Make sure the area around your furnace and any vents is kept clear and clean. Don’t store anything flammable or combustible near the furnace or any elements that distribute heat.
  • It’s a good idea to routinely perform a quick clean of the unit. Cleaning should involve cleaning/changing the filter; cleaning the air-blower, the motor housing, and any belts; and always disconnect from the power source before proceeding. Stick around to test the furnace function again before turning it back on and walking away or leaving the house for extended periods of time.

Common Furnace Issues to Watch Out For

 You should have your heater serviced by a professional if it smells like gas, makes unusual noises, or emits a burning smell. Image source:[/caption]

Whether your heating system is a gas or electric furnace, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s running safely and efficiently before the winter season. A poorly-running furnace can actually be dangerous and pose some hazards to your home and family. There are a few common heating problems that you’ll need to watch out for as a furnace owner.

Common Furnace Problems

  • Dirty or Clogged Filters: This issue reduces airflow and makes the furnace work harder to heat. In addition, if left long enough, an especially dirty or clogged filter could cause damage to the limit switch, which controls the fan.
  • Pilot Control Issues: With a gas furnace, there can be issues with the pilot light, whether stemming from a faulty ignitor or thermocouple problems.
  • Furnace Won’t Heat At All: If your furnace is having issues expelling heat, there could be issues due to a faulty thermostat, the thermostat setting, power connection, gas connection, or pilot light.
  • Furnace Doesn’t Heat Enough: This could indicate a clogged filter or a unit that is too small for the space it’s being used to heat.
  • Frequent Cycling: If the furnace seems to be constantly cycling from “Off” to “On,” check for a clogged air filter, improper air flow, or a bad thermostat setting.
  • Blower Continuously Runs: This could indicate a faulty limit switch, and it’s recommended you have a professional look the unit over.
  • Furnace Is Especially Noisy: Squeaks and rattles aren’t normal to furnace models. These sounds would indicate a mechanical issue, airflow reduction, or a clogged burner.
  • Blank Thermostat Screen: If the furnace won’t work and the thermostat’s screen is blank, check the breaker for a blown or tripped fuse.
  • If Your Furnace Smells Like Gas: Your gas furnace should NEVER smell like gas. If you detect even the slightest fumes, shut it off and have a professional check it out as soon as possible.
  • Hot or Burning Smell: A burnt smell or an actively smoking heater indicates that something is NOT right. Shut off your furnace immediately and if it’s electric, unplug it. Have a professional check it out as soon as possible. A faint unpleasant smell could merely indicate a dirty air filter that needs to be changed or dust build-up within the furnace, which would be rectified by simply changing the filter or cleaning your unit.

Keeping your home warm and toasty during the winter months is very important, as is furnace safety. Feel free to perform some simple troubleshooting at home, but if there’s any gas or burning smell, be sure to contact a professional right away.

If you’re in the market for a new furnace, browse our gas and electric heaters to discover the best solution for your home. Need help deciding? Check out our top electric heaters below:

Our Recommended Electric Heaters with Safety Features for 2023

Goodman/Daikin HKSX03XC 3.0 kW Heat Kit for Air Handlers

Adding a heater coil to your Goodman, Daikin SkyAir Air Handler will allow for heating capabilities in the winter. This 3 kW heater is capable of providing 10,236 BTUs of heat.

Standard features of the Goodman Heater Coils include sequencers for better temperature control, multiple branch circuit capabilities and rust-resistant nickel chromium heat elements. The heat coils are ETL Listed, and a plug-in wiring harness allows for easy installation into a compatible air handler.

Compatible air handlers include:

SkyAir Air Handler Models:

*excluding FTQ42 or FTQ48 air handler units

Goodman Air Handler Models:

AVPTC Series
ARPT Series
ARUF Series
ASUF Series
ASPT Series

Goodman/Daikin HKSX03XC 3.0 kW Heat Kit for Air Handlers
Price: $149.00 Goodman/Daikin HKSX03XC 3.0 kW Heat Kit for Air Handlers

Adding a heater coil to your Goodman, Daikin SkyAir Air Handler will allow for heating capabilities in the winter. The 3 kW heater is capable of 10,236 BTUs of ...

View Product

Goodman/Daikin HKSC08XC 7.0 kW Heat Kit for Air Handlers

This heater coil is capable of providing 27,297 BTUs of heat when added to your Goodman or Daikin Air Handler. The HKSC08XC is a single phase 208/240V electric heater and there is a factory-installed circuit breaker on this model. It will supply 7 kW/240V; 6.5 kW/230V; 5.3 kW/208V.

It is compatible with the following air handler models from Goodman and Daikin:

SkyAir Air Handler Models:

Goodman Air Handler Models:

  • AVPTC Series
  • ARPT Series
  • ARUF Series
  • ASUF Series
  • ASPT Series

Goodman/Daikin HKSC08XC 7.0 kW Heat Kit for Air Handlers
Price: $225.00 Goodman/Daikin HKSC08XC 7.0 kW Heat Kit for Air Handlers

Adding a heater coil to your Goodman Air Handler will allow for heating capabilities in the winter. The 7.0 kW coil will provide 27,297 BTUs of heat. A plug-in ...

View Product

You can also check out our list of the best furnaces here.

Mickey Luongo

Mickey is the resident heating and air conditioning expert with over 15 years of experience in the industry.

2 thoughts on “Furnace Safety: Tips to Avoid Furnace Dangers”

  1. How Does a Furnace Work? Electric, Gas, Forced Air & More says:

    […] at some of the common furnaces you will come across in your search, how they work, factors such as safety and energy efficiency, and what kinds of situations or environments they work best […]

  2. Furnace Safety Tips You Should Know to Keep Your Home Safe says:

    […] signaling that it’s near the end of its useful life and needs to be replaced soon. Even if your furnace has a few years left in it, it may not be cost efficient to keep it if your energy bills during the […]

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