Attic fans can help keep your house cooler during the hot summer months. While this sentiment is true to some extent, achieving desired results depends on certain aspects, as explained in our previous post. Whether you use a whole house fan or power attic ventilator, your ceiling needs to be airtight. Also, the attic space has to be insulated and well ventilated for the fans to work effectively.
But back to the topic at hand, can attic fans cause fires? Attic fires can and do happen. Just like any electrical appliance, attic fans are susceptible to causing fires. A defective attic fan can overheat and cause a fire. Faulty or loose wiring, aged appliances, and overloaded circuit breakers are other cases of attic fires.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) statistics, more than 10,000 attic fires occur each year in the United States. These fires cause an average of 30 civilian deaths annually. While this number of fatalities is small compared to 2620 annual deaths due to home structure fires, it’s still a reason for concern.
What’s more, property loss runs into hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
The report further states; electrical malfunction is the leading cause of these attic fires. While it doesn’t indicate how attic fans cause many home fires, such occurrences happen. There have been several reports of defective attic fans causing fires.
There are a few ways to prevent attic fan fire incidences, but first, let’s take a look at what causes it.
Lack of Inspection
Most homeowners install attic fans and forget about them. Even when preparing for summer or winter, they are often overlooked. Some people are just less concerned, while others lack the time or find attics hard to navigate. But whatever the reason, attic fan inspection should never be ignored.
Just like any other electrical device in your house, you should inspect them regularly for any sign of electrical issues, damage, or parts that may need repair.
Years of neglect can create safety issues. We all know anything electrical can cause a fire in the presence of flammable liquid or combustible materials.
Substandard Attic Fans
Attic fans are made differently. While it’s mandatory for manufacturers to comply with standards, rules, and regulations, it’s not uncommon for some models to fail the quality test. These products can make their way into the market.
Besides back drafting water heaters and furnaces, improper attic fan installation can present a fire hazard. DIY projects are great for saving a few coins while having a good time, but some projects, especially those that involve wiring, can be tricky.
Installing an attic fan may seem like an easy DIY project, but it’s best to leave it to the pros unless you’re a licensed electrician.
How to Prevent Attic Fires
An attic is a tricky place for fires to start. It usually doesn’t have a smoke alarm or heat sensor. So if a fire breaks out, it can go undetected until smoke appears or make its way into the home structure to trigger the alarm. This is what makes attic fires dangerous.
But these fires are easily preventable.
Look for Fans With a UL (Underwriters Laboratories) Label
UL is an independent testing laboratory located in the United States that tests an array of products for safety and quality. It incorporates thorough and precise testing methods to ensure the products and components align with applicable requirements. It provides quality assessment services in different areas, from appliances to electrical components, building systems, fire protection equipment, and vehicles.
UL uses real-world scenarios to test products. So attic fans with a UL label have passed a full spectrum of comprehensive testing with satisfactory results. Also, keep in mind before installing attic fans, you have to comply with building codes. However, most DIYers don’t keep up with building codes.
Not getting the right permits not only puts you and your family’s safety at risk but can also make your home unsellable. What’s more, your insurance may not cover your loss as a result of poor workmanship.
If you insist on installing the fan yourself rather than hiring a contractor, a little due diligence goes a long way. Make sure to check with your local building permit agency prior to installation. If you feel it’s too much of a hassle, hire a contractor. They know the ins and outs of building codes that vary from city to city.
Get in the Attic and Examine the Wiring Connections
Make a habit of inspecting the attic fan during summer as things can get insanely hot up there. The temperature can even shoot up to 150 degrees. Do it early in the morning or late in the evening when the outdoor temperature is lower. Make sure there are no loose wires. Check the fan’s motor shaft to ensure nothing is blocking it. Check the belt and blades for dry rot.
Also, check to see if the belt is worn out, cracked, or broken. Replace if needed, do not overtighten. Faulty switches and outlets, defective chimney linings, and frayed wires should be replaced immediately. Don’t forget to look for a blown fuse or tripped circuit breaker. Some shorts are not strong enough to trip the circuit breaker or blow a fuse.
If you’re not comfortable doing electrical work or unsure how to proceed, it’s best to contact a licensed electrician for assistance.
Keep Insulation and Storage Items Away From a Metal Chimney
Unless specified by the manufacturers or local building code, a metal chimney should not be too close to insulation, wood framing, or combustibles. A chimney is a potential fire hazard, especially when exposed to extreme temperatures.
Other Useful Tips
- If you haven’t used the attic fan for a while or unsure about its condition, inspect it first. You can hire a professional electrician to do a thorough inspection to ensure your fan is clean and functioning correctly.
- Follow the manufacturer’s directions on how to use the fan.
- Look for signs of burning in the insulation or wood compartment. Wood support beams in the roof or insulation can ignite fire very quickly. Inspect both the interior and exterior of the chimney.
- Clean vents of lint regularly.
- It’s a good idea to install a smoke detector in the attic as fires originating from this space take a longer time to be detected.
- Do not store clothes and newspapers in the attic. These items ignite quickly and burn rapidly, especially if lightning strikes. Lighting is among the causes of fires in the attic, as reported by FEMA.
- Do not overload your home outlets or extension cords. Plugging in too many devices into a single outlet can trip the circuit breaker and cause an electrical fire.
- When it comes to inspecting wring in the attic, it’s best to hire a licensed electrician.
- Never leave your attic ventilation system or any electrical appliance plugged into the outlet.
- Get rid of your attic clutter and keep it that way. Never store hazardous chemicals or flammable items in the attic. When exposed to high temperatures, these materials can cause a fire. Besides, the chemicals can leak out and increase the risk of starting a fire.
Fires caused by attic fans are quite rare but can happen if maintenance inspection is ignored for a long time. Something minor like an overloaded circuit can turn into a disaster if ignored. When checking systems and equipment in your house, do not forget the attic fan.