Keep your furnace from causing a fire

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) -- Cold temperatures mean furnaces – and furnace technicians – are working overtime.

But while you keep warm, you’ll want to keep safe, as well.

The National Fire Protection Association says more than one in six home fires start from heating equipment, which is the second most common cause of a fire behind cooking.

While most heating-related fires start from either space heaters or fire places, more than one out of every 10 starts with a central heating system.

"A lot of people think when their air is blowing cold that their thermostat is broke or something else,” said Mike Ritter, owner of Great Lakes Heating and Air Conditioning. “In actuality, it's trying to run, so you want to get it shut down and have somebody come out and look at it."

There are many symptoms of an improperly-functioning furnace that could spell trouble.

“Depending on the type of furnace they have, they want to make sure it's venting properly,” Ritter said. “So if there's a metal pipe coming off of the furnace, it's going to be very hot, so you don't want to just go and grab it, but make sure it's not getting any hotter than it should and you don't have any downdraft. What I mean by that is you don't have any air coming out of your furnace. Air should be coming from your house going into your furnace and outside because it needs that oxygen to burn."

Dust is also something to look out for – inside the furnace, duct system or air filter.

“A clean air filter is majorly important because you're intentionally creating heat through combustion and fire underneath where your family is living. You need that air to get across there and remove that heat and put it into your living space. Otherwise it just keeps building up."

More common than fire though is carbon monoxide buildup, which is just as dangerous.

"People don't realize their getting carbon monoxide because they get flu-like symptoms,” Ritter said. “And when do you get the flu? In the wintertime. When's your furnace running? In the wintertime. People are somewhat aware of it, but it's way more prevalent than they realize."

A furnace inspection runs from $80-$100, but replacing a furnace could cost thousands.

Still, keeping your furnace clean and health can save you all of that money.

A warning though: Don’t try to repair anything too complicated, or you could be taking a bad situation and making it worse.

"We had an individual that was working on it themselves, and they took the thermocoupler out and replaced it because they didn't have heat,” Ritter said. “It did sense when they put it all back together that it was running, but they didn't put it physically back inside the furnace. So when they turned it on, the burners were filling, the whole thing just filled up with gas, and when it finally ignited outside of the furnace, it blew the door off, shot across the basement and did some damage to their basement on the other side."

Thankfully, the gentleman was not inside the basement at the time, so he was not injured.

Ultimately, there are some situations you’ll need a professional -- but proper care and maintenance can make those situations few and far between, all while keeping you safe and saving you money.