Furnace Puffbacks: What You Need To Know

Once the winter months hit, everyone uses their heating system all hours of the day. When regularly maintained by an HVAC professional, it should run smoothly and keep your home warm. But, when your heating system isn’t working correctly, you may end up with a sooty, smokey mess from a furnace puffback. 


What Is A Puffback? 

A puffback is a misfire in the combustion chamber of your furnace or boiler. The explosion sends smoke and soot throughout the heating system of your home, depositing it on walls, floors, ceilings, and even furniture. 

Puffbacks occur because of built-up fuel in the combustion chamber of your furnace or boiler. When your heater doesn’t properly ignite when it turns on, it leaves behind unburned fuel vapors. When these built-up vapors finally ignite, the excess amount of fuel causes a misfire or explosion in the combustion chamber, producing the smoke and soot that covers your home. 

You may not always know a furnace puffback occurred right away. Puffbacks can have one large misfire or be a series of small misfires over time that you don’t notice until soot residue begins to show on your walls. 

What Are The Warning Signs of A Furnace Puffback? 

While you may not notice smaller puffbacks when they happen, there are definite signs that your heating system isn’t working correctly before one occurs. Warning signs of a furnace puffback include:

  • Oil leaks – Leaks are a strong sign that a puffback may occur in your heating system, as fuel is not being properly run to the furnace or boiler. Leaks can allow air into the system which may cause improper ignition. 
  • Loud ignition – If you begin to hear noises from your furnace that you haven’t before when it turns on, it’s possible that it’s small puffbacks. 
  • Noises continuing after shutting off – When your heating system continues to make noise after it shuts off, it could be due to oil leaking into the combustion chamber and igniting.
  • Strong odor – When your furnace isn’t working properly, there may be strong oil or burning smells when it turns on. 
  • Soot – Once you notice soot around your furnace or on the walls or ceilings of your home, a puffback has already occurred and may happen again. 

What Do You Do When A Furnace Puffback Occurs in Your Home?

Puffbacks can cause soot, smoke, and odors to cover every surface of your home and require a professional cleaning to ensure all residues are removed, not to mention the damage to your heating system itself. For an easy recovery after a furnace puffback, do the following:

  1. Turn off the heating system. If your furnace misfires once, it’s likely to happen again. Turning off the heating system will also prevent soot and smoke from further spreading around the building and creating a larger mess. 
  2. Evacuate the building. After a large puffback, there is the risk of fire, smoke inhalation, or carbon monoxide poisoning. Wait until your home has aired out to go back inside. 
  3. File an insurance claim. Most times, the cleanup after your furnace puffback will be covered by your homeowners insurance policy. You’ll likely not want to pay out of pocket for puffback soot cleanup, as the average price is in the high thousands. 
  4. Have your heating system inspected. You shouldn’t use your heating system again until it has been repaired by a HVAC technician to ensure a misfire doesn’t happen again.
  5. Contact a smoke damage restoration company for puffback cleanup. It is not advised to clean up after a furnace puffback by yourself. Without the proper cleaning knowledge, chemicals, and materials, you may end up further embedding soot and smoke particles into your walls. You will want to be sure to choose a company that can fully remove soot and smoke particles from not only the surfaces of your home but fabrics and upholstery as well. Lastly, the company you choose should offer duct cleaning services to clean all soot and smoke out of the heating system of your home before it is turned back on. 


Preventing Puffbacks In Your Home

There are simple steps you can take to help prevent furnace puffbacks or catch them before major smoke and soot damage is done to your home.

  • Have an HVAC professional service your heating system once a year. 
  • Remember the signs of a furnace puffback to help prevent extensive damage.

Install a carbon monoxide detector to catch misfires early.

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