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Fire & Water - Cleanup & Restoration

Everything To Know About Furnace Puffbacks

11/5/2020 (Permalink)

photo of soot and smoke staining walls of home from a furnace puffback The black stains on the walls and ceilings of this home are actually smoke and soot from a furnace puffback.

What Are Puff Backs?

A puffback is an explosion or misfire inside the burner chamber of your furnace or boiler. Note: Hot-air systems use furnaces while steam/hot water systems use boilers. The explosion sends smoke and soot throughout your home, leaving black residue on walls, furniture, curtains, and more. Many times, a puffback will require a professional smoke & soot cleaning service in order to restore your home back to normal. 

Why Do Puffbacks Happen?

When your furnace or boiler doesn’t ignite properly, oil or gas vapors are able to build up in the combustion chamber over time. When these built up vapors finally ignite, the excess amount of fuel in the chamber causes an explosion which sends soot and smoke throughout the heating system of your home. 

Puffbacks are not always one large explosion - They sometimes occur overtime with constant, smaller misfires that you aren’t able to notice until black soot has finally built up months later. On the other hand, if there is a large explosion in your furnace you will immediately be able to smell it and see black soot coming from your heating vents. 

While the misfires that cause puffbacks can happen in both oil and gas-fueled heating systems, they are more common and damaging in oil furnaces or boilers. Oil does not dissipate as easily as gas, and is more likely to build up in your combustion chamber. Oil system puffbacks are also more damaging because oil produces more soot and smoke when it combusts than gas.

What Actually Causes A Puffback?

When fuel accumulates in the combustion chamber, it causes a misfire. But what causes fuel to build up? There are a few causes of fuel buildup in gas or oil burners:

  1. Leaks in the fuel supply line or at the combustion chamber
  2. Clogged or cracked oil fuel nozzles
  3. Clogged exhaust
  4. Clogged burner

These issues can cause excess oil or gas to build up in the combustion chamber and lead to a puffback when it finally ignites.

How Can You Prevent Them?

  • Have your heating system serviced once a year. Even when there is nothing wrong with your system, it is still important to have regular maintenance to ensure it continues to run smoothly. Your HVAC professional will be able to locate any issues or fuel buildup and resolve them to prevent a puffback.
  • Install or replace the batteries in your carbon monoxide detector. If your furnace has a puffback, the carbon monoxide levels will rise due to the combustion. Installing or upkeep your detector may allow you to detect misfires in the early stages, before they cause much damage.
  • Learn the signs that your heating system may not be working properly. When it isn’t, it may be a sign you are at risk for a puffback. Signs include:
    • Oil leaks
    • Loud furnace ignition
    • Noises that continues after the system is off
    • Unusual odors
    • Noticing soot buildup around your home
  • Take immediate action. If you identify any of the above warning signs in your home or are worried there is something wrong with your heating system, you should always take action quickly. This way, you can prevent a major, sooty mess in your home from a puffback. Misfires are also dangerous - since they are a literal explosion inside your heating system. 

What Should You Do If It Happens to You?

Take these steps as soon as you identify a puffback to prevent further damages to your home and your heating system:

  • Immediately turn off the heating system. This will prevent further misfires, damage, and soot from spreading around the building.
  • Evacuate the building if there is risk of a fire, a large amount of smoke, or the carbon monoxide detector is going off. These conditions are not safe.
  • Document everything for your insurance company if you will be filing a claim. While most puffbacks are caused by lack of maintenance on the homeowner’s part, it doesn't hurt to see if it will be covered.
  • Contact your HVAC professional. They will need to inspect and repair the system before it can be turned back on. 
  • Contact a local professional puffback cleanup service. For smaller puffbacks, it may seem like you can handle the cleaning yourself, but without the correct knowledge and materials you can actually make damages worse and smear soot further into walls and upholstery. There is also likely more to clean than what you can see with the naked eye. Soot and smoke cleanup companies utilize dry chemical sponges to get soot off of walls and show just how much of your home is affected.

Call SERVPRO of Morristown For Puffback Cleanup - 800-734-3213

SERVPRO of Morristown is a 24/7 damage restoration company specializing in fire, water, mold and COVID-19 services. Call us today to make any disaster "Like it never even happened."

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