What is Puff Back?

In the US, approximately 8 million homes still use heating oil as their main heating fuel.  Of these, an astounding 80%, or 6.4 million, are located in the Northeast.  Many of these furnaces, despite being regularly serviced, can malfunction in the form of a “puffback.”  These puffbacks wreak havoc on paint, carpet, and contents of a home.  Most often, they’re covered under your existing homeowners insurance policy.

A oil furnace puff back is an actual explosion of unburned fuel lying in the combustion chamber of the furnace.  The strength and soot expelled by this explosion depends on how much unburned oil there is.  Two major malfunctions which can cause this oil to accumulate are:

  1. Leaks in the piping supplying the oil.  If you notice a slow drip of oil on the floor, call a technician to service the equipment.  These leaks cause air bubbles to get into the piping, which can move and push little bits of oil into the combustion chamber when the furnace is off.  This accumulates, and ultimately will ignite the oil and cause a loud bang.
  2. Problems when the furnace shuts down.  Inside the oil burner is a valve which is spring loaded and stops the flow of oil precisely when the RPMs of the oil burner begins to slow.  If there is even the slightest bit of dirt or debris on this valve, it can cause the same accumulation in the combustion chamber.

If your home experiences a puffback, you may notice some thermal tracks on the walls and ceiling where the soot has settled.  The soot will settle mostly near cooler areas on these surfaces, so you may notice it on nail heads on drywall, or in the corners of the ceiling.  Often, these tracks are indicators of areas of heat loss within a home as well.  However, even if you don’t notice any visible signs, that doesn’t mean the soot isn’t covering your walls, ceiling and contents.  You should have the unit serviced immediately, and call us so we can do a thorough inspection of the home.

If there’s evidence of soot, your insurance company will pay to have all areas affected cleaned (including contents and clothing), deodorized (in the case of carpet), and repainted (walls and ceilings).  Depending on the size of your home, this could mean tens of thousands of dollars.  If this should occur in your home, our trained and certified technicians can assist you in bringing your home back to pre-loss conditions.  biowashing.com

About the author: Joe Fiorilli