Puffback. It sounds like some cute little Antarctic bird or a character from a kids cartoon show; however, it is anything but cute.
A Puffback is a misfire in your furnace which discharges thick, stinky soot into every crevice of your home. This event can have varying results, none of which is desirable. It can happen all at once like hearing a car backfire or much more gradual like holding the end of a balloon and letting the air seep out slowly. At its worst, a Puffback can send soot out into your home which can result in oily black “webs” of soot being distributed throughout your house. The soot, which may be accompanied by a foul odor that permeates your home, is not a powder-like substance. It is a black, sticky substance made up of a mixture of oil which is difficult to clean. Puffback soot should be cleaned as soon as possible as it is extremely difficult to remove. If you are lucky, the problem will be limited to a valve or filter which is relatively inexpensive to fix, typically under $20. Conversely it could be quite costly if you need to replace your entire oil burner. That repair will cost you several hundred dollars just for the equipment alone.
This nasty soot can get into every corner of your home. The damage is worse with homes that have a forced-air heating system or central air-conditioning. This is because the duct work installed in the house provides a path through the entire home, even inside the closets. A Puffback will most likely force you to hire a professional cleaning and restoration company as well as a heating and air conditioning professional to clean and repair your home and heating/cooling systems. Even if you are lucky enough to keep your bill under $1,000, you may find yourself having to replace things like carpets and drapes which lead to an entire redecorating project. Remember to throw away any exposed foods such as fruit or bread and wash or dry clean any affected clothing as soon as possible.
The good news is that if you have adequate homeowner’s insurance, it should cover most of the cost of the damage to your home and its contents. The coverage, of course, is subject to your deductible. There are some situations in which your policy may not cover a loss. It is best to discuss this with your insurance agent to be sure you know what you have for coverage and what potential coverage gaps might exist.
Unfortunately, bad things happen to good people all the time. Why do things like Puffbacks occur? There are several reasons for this.
- Your oil burner doesn’t ignite when it should allowing vapors to build up and then ignite causing an explosion similar to a car backfiring.
- Furnace issues that leave oil in the ignition chamber
- Leaks in the oil system
- Bubbles in the oil line
- Clogs in the nozzle
There are warning signs that your heating and cooling professional should be looking for and which you should be aware.
- Black soot on the furnace, basement walls or ceiling which indicate that oil from your tank is not burning properly
- Strange noises that continue after the furnace has stopped burning
- Noises (puff or bang) at the beginning of the burning cycle
Steps you can take to prevent Puffbacks:
- Keep your oil heating system free of dust and have it serviced annually
- If you hear noises or see soot near your furnace, call your heating company right away
- Replace any old, worn or broken components as soon as you notice them
If you experience a Puffback, notify your insurance agent immediately.