Smoke and Soot Removal

What Are Puff Backs?

Puff backs are among the more common causes of smoke and soot damage. A puff back occurs when your oil burner backfires and forces smoke and soot into your home or business through ducts and vents. Puff backs can cause anything from a minor inconvenience to severe damage to your property and heating system. Luckily, they are easily preventable with proper heating system maintenance and by educating yourself about the warning signs.

What Causes Puff Backs?

If a boiler or heater is malfunctioning, unburned fuel may accumulate in its combustion chamber. When the heating appliance starts, this unburned oil can ignite and cause an explosion or misfire inside the furnace. A puff back is simply the oil burner backfire and it forces soot and/or smoke through the heating exhaust system.

An explosion may occur from a puff back that releases soot into the building. In some instances, an explosion might take place each time a furnace or boiler is ignited. If puff backs continue occurring, soot may accumulate in vents and on ceilings, baseboards, or carpets. It’s paramount to understand the proper maintenance for both oil-fired and gas heating appliances. However, oil puff backs are more damaging than gas puff backs because oil creates more soot than gas.

Puff Back Damage

There are many factors that go into assessing the damage from a puff back, including the type of heater, how much fuel is ignited in the combustion chamber, and what caused the puff back to occur. A small puff back will only release a modest amount of soot, while a larger puff back can release soot throughout your entire home or business and cause damage to heater components. Once expelled from the heater or boiler, there are other factors that determine how far the soot can spread, including:

  • The connection between the heater and the building 
  • The structure and layout of the building 
  • The routing of the HVAC ducts 
  • Open and closed doors in the building 

A puff back that occurs in the ceiling is typically the most damaging because the ductwork allows the soot to travel throughout the entirety of the house or business. Forced air systems are designed to push hot air to every room of a building. During a puff back, these systems transport soot and smoke just as effectively. 

Avoiding Puff Backs

Proper maintenance can help keep puff backs in check. Becoming knowledgeable is crucial. Depending on the damage done, restoration following a puff back can be costly. Home and business owners should take precautions to prevent puff backs as well as damage to their home, business, belongings, and heating systems. The warning signs of puff backs include: 

  • Visible oil drips around the oil supply piping. 
  • A vibrating sound that continues after you shut off the boiler may be a sign that oil is leaking into the combustion chamber. 
  • A furnace that is not working properly may produce a strange odor that indicates the combustion gasses are not venting properly. 
  • If there is visible soot in the furnace room, on the walls, or ceilings of your home, then your furnace is not operating properly. 

The most effective way to avoid a puff back from happening is to catch a problem within your heating system before it is too late. 

Preventative HVAC maintenance will keep your heating system in good condition and help prevent puff backs. Regular maintenance on your heating system includes cleaning out the soot that naturally accumulates during a heating season. It should also be noted that changing your oil spray nozzle if it is clogged or dirty ensures that all heating components are in good working order. 

Professional Puff Back Restoration

JP Maguire has been family owned and operated since 1982. We are a full-service restoration contractor with a cleaning division utilizing the latest technology. Our reconstruction division includes experienced estimators and contractors trained to rebuild after any type of loss. Regardless of the scope or damage to your home or office from a puff back, JP Maguire is committed to restoring your space and making it look better than ever. Contact us for any additional information or to schedule an appointment.

For more information, please visit our Frequently Asked Questions. All calls are returned within 30 minutes and our knowledgeable experts can arrive at your property within two hours of your call.

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