What Are the Risks of Owning a Natural Gas Furnace?
There’s a reason why natural gas is one of the most popular methods for heating a home: it’s inexpensive, easy to come by, and burns quite hot, meaning it’s an extremely efficient heat source. Natural gas is capable of getting your home nice and toasty, even on the coldest days. This isn’t always true with other heating methods.
Because it is gas, however, there are a number of risks that go along with owning a natural gas furnace. This is not to say that it’s dangerous to heat your home with natural gas. It’s perfectly safe, provided safety precautions are carefully followed. Below, we’ll list the most common risks associated with a natural gas furnace and how to avoid them.
Carbon Monoxide Buildup
A natural gas furnace generates heat by igniting its fuel source inside of a burner. This generates heat, which is transferred to a heat exchanger. The heat exchanger then heats up air, which is then forced, by way of a blower motor, throughout the ducts of the home. Natural gas is a popular heating source because it burns efficiently. However, burning anything generates waste products. Natural gas is primarily composed of methane, which is made from carbon and hydrogen. As the gas is burned, the carbon oxidizes and produces a colorless, tasteless, and odorless chemical called carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide is particularly dangerous because it prevents the blood from transporting oxygen throughout the body. Inhaling enough of it can cause suffocation. Because it’s also undetectable by human senses, carbon monoxide buildup in a home is often not noticed until it’s too late. That’s why it’s critical to ensure that the carbon monoxide generated by your natural gas furnace is adequately ventilated outside the home, where it can dissipate harmlessly.
Your furnace should be installed somewhere with plenty of ventilation. You will need a flue that can be regularly inspected by your HVAC professional for signs of blockage. You should also have carbon monoxide detectors installed throughout your home, which will serve as an early warning system should this toxic gas begin to seep inside.
To utilize natural gas in your home, it must be transported to your furnace by way of a system of pipes. Anywhere along the way, these pipes may spring a leak, or a leak may occur near the furnace itself. A gas leak, of course, is extremely dangerous for a number of reasons. First, because natural gas is so flammable, it can create a serious fire hazard. Even a small spark from an electrical outlet can set it off. The gas itself is also toxic to breathe.
Like carbon monoxide, natural gas is naturally odorless, and therefore difficult to detect when leaking. Fortunately, providers add a chemical called mercaptan to the gas before it’s transported into homes. This chemical has a sulfurous, “rotten egg” scent. When you smell natural gas, what you’re actually smelling is mercaptan. It’s added for the express purpose of making it possible to detect leaks.
If you smell a gas leak, you should evacuate everyone from the home immediately (both people and animals). Once you’re safely away from the gas leak, you should contact a professional to get the situation under control. Do not return to the home until you are given the go-ahead to do so by someone who is authorized to ensure your home’s safety.
You may be tempted to shut off electrical appliances before you leave—this seems like common sense—but, actually, this can increase the risk of a fire starting. Do not turn any electrical devices on or off before you evacuate. Leave this in the hands of a trained professional.
To prevent gas leaks from occurring in the first place, it’s important to have regular maintenance performed on your furnace and the surrounding components. This maintenance should be performed at least once a year by a licensed HVAC professional from a reputable company like Entek. If any problems are noticed, they should be repaired promptly.
Other Fire Hazards
Gas leaks alone are not the only fire hazard that a natural gas furnace can create. Clutter located too near the furnace can catch fire easily, and this fire can easily burn out of control before it’s ever detected. It’s easy enough to avoid that particular risk. Simply give your natural gas furnace plenty of room to work, and do not put any other objects near it.
Poorly maintained filters can also pose a fire hazard inside of your furnace. Air filters help to trap debris and other irritants, ensuring that your home maintains good air quality. However, over time, these filters can become blocked, and eventually, they will cease to function as effectively. Too much buildup, and the debris risks catching fire due to the heated air that’s regularly blown into it. This problem can be addressed by regularly having your filters cleaned or replaced by your HVAC professional.
The other major risk that a gas furnace poses is actually not from the furnace itself but from its electrical components. Even a gas-powered furnace has a lot of wiring that’s necessary to keep it working. For example, the thermostat that helps to control the temperature is dependent upon electrical power. The electrical components of the furnace must be regularly maintained in order to ensure they don’t pose a risk of fire or electric shock.
Regular Maintenance Is Key
As we’ve mentioned, you should have your furnace inspected and, if necessary, repaired by a qualified professional from a company like Entek HVAC. It’s best to have this maintenance performed in the off-season. Call an HVAC company during the hottest or coldest days of the year, and you’ll probably find that they’re extremely busy handling emergency repairs from broken furnaces or air conditioners. Get your HVAC contractor to perform your maintenance when it’s pleasant outside, and you’ll be able to get the service performed much more quickly, not to mention reducing your own risk of having to have an emergency repair done when it’s incredibly hot or incredibly cold outside.