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Oil furnace "puff backs"

sootA "puff back" is a misfire of an oil furnace that may send soot shooting through your home.

These are rare but can be costly in terms of repair. In most cases, "customers have not serviced their heating systems and they have been sitting idle," said Bowen. "Usually there are jets that push the oil into a chamber where it is burned for heat. The jets get clogged, the oil builds up in the chamber, and all of a sudden it decides to spark. Usually customers will say, 'I heard a huge bang and all of a sudden there was soot all over the home.'"

The homeowner usually can't clean up the mess because of the oil residue. Insurance companies may bring in mitigation specialists to supervise the work.

Have your oil burner inspected yearly. There are about 50,000 home fires each year in the United States related to heating system failures, Bowen says.

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