Cleaning your burners should be a routine part of your furnace maintenance place. Since accessing the burners can be challenging on some furnaces, especially high-efficiency models, professionals often perform this job during annual maintenance visits. Keeping your burners clean can improve your furnace's efficiency and avoid common problems that may stop your heat from working.
However, dirty burners aren't always a routine problem. While your burners will naturally pick up dirt, dust, and soot, excessive soot on your burners or other components may indicate trouble.
What Makes Soot a Bad Thing?
Soot refers to a solid combustion byproduct composed primarily of carbon. The ideal mixture (known as the stoichiometric ratio) of fuel and oxygen will produce a clean burn, meaning there won't be any soot in the exhaust stream. No furnace always burns with a perfect fuel-to-air ratio, so some amount of soot is normal, even in well-maintained furnaces. Older or lower-efficiency models may produce more soot.
Soot can be problematic because it has the potential to clog up relatively small passageways in your furnace or even affect electrical components and sensors. If enough soot builds up on your burners, the nozzles may not deliver sufficient fuel for ignition. Since soot can be conductive, it may also affect electrical components or wiring in your furnace cabinet.
What Causes Excessive Soot Build-Up?
Excessive soot inside your furnace indicates highly inefficient, incomplete combustion. If your burners are repeatedly clogging, even after cleaning, you likely have an issue affecting your furnace's ability to run efficiently. Numerous problems can cause an inefficient burn, from airflow restrictions that reduce the oxygen available for combustion to excessive amounts of gas entering the burners.
In some cases, soot accumulation can also indicate a more dangerous problem. Cracks in your heat exchanger may allow soot to escape the exhaust stream, coating parts of your furnace or even entering your air ducts. If you notice soot exiting your furnace, stop using your heating system immediately, as there may also be carbon monoxide leaking into your home.
What Should You Do About Soot Problems?
Soot should rarely be a significant issue on well-maintained furnaces. If you service your furnace annually and still experience problems with soot build-up near the burners or inside the cabinet, you'll probably need to hire an HVAC technician for further help. In these cases, the soot is a symptom rather than the underlying problem.
An expert can begin by measuring the efficiency of your furnace and looking for potential combustion issues. Once they determine and repair the cause of your furnace's incomplete combustion, you should stop seeing excessive soot build-up in your furnace.
Reach out to a furnace repair technician to learn more.