Puffbacks And Getting The Right Help

puffback cleanup rutlandIt’s nearly time to crank up your heating system for the winter season. Two questions: 

  1. Was your furnace running great when you shut it down last spring? 
  2. Are you planning to have your furnace cleaned and tuned up before you begin using it this fall? 

If the answer to these questions is no, you may be the victim of a “furnace puffback” in the near future. What is a furnace puffback, you ask? A furnace puffback is the result of a poorly running, inefficient furnace. When an oil or gas burner doesn’t ignite right away, unburned fuel or fumes can accumulate in the combustion chamber. When the burner finally ignites, there can be an explosion, which vaporizes and expels soot throughout your home or business. Oil burner puff backs cause the most damage because the soot and smoke is mixed with oil, which covers walls, furniture, clothing, floors, curtains, bedding, etc., and is very difficult to remove. Aside from the soot and smoke damage, your furnace may be ruined as well. 

Puffbacks can occur as one large event, or a series of small frequent events, where each ignition sends a small amount of soot through the heating system. If ignored, a large puffback/explosion can happen. These events usually require extensive cleanup and restoration, in addition to repairs to the heating system. 

Puff Backs are generally covered by your insurance. Occasionally, an insurance company will balk at the claim if the puffback resulted because of owner negligence, such as: 

  • A clogged chimney that should have been cleaned
  • Repeatedly manually overriding the heating system
  • Using fuel not specified for your furnace
  • Lack of proper cleaning and maintenance
  • Most insurance policies will cover three legs of a puffback claim.
  • Dwelling/business cost (furnace repair, building cleaning, contents cleaning, and repairs)
  • Loss of personal/business property
  • Living expenses (lodging and food costs while displaced from your home; or loss of income while your business is shut down)


  1. Make sure your furnace is cleaned and serviced annually
  2. Look for odors, noises, and soot around the boiler or furnace room 
  3. Be vigilant about checking out oil leaks around the oil piping system and oil burner. Oil leaks are also air leaks, which can help cause puffbacks 
  4. Look for soot, debris, and rust flakes in the flu vent connector. This indicates a dirty furnace 
  5. Loud starting noises, like a “bang” or “puff sound” when your furnace starts, indicating small amounts of unburned fuel are igniting in the combustion chamber 
  6. A rumbling or vibrating sound that continues after you shut off the boiler, may be a sign that oil is leaking into the combustion chamber 


  1. Shut off your heating system to prevent further damage
  2.  If smoke exists or there is a risk of fire, call your fire department immediately. There is also a risk from carbon monoxide (CO), so leave your home or business until you can verify it’s safe to return. Most fire departments have CO detection meters.
  3. Take photos/videos of the damage, for your insurance company 
  4. Contact a full service restoration company. They can assess the damage and help you with the insurance claim process. They will also be able to thoroughly clean and repair the property, as well as cleaning all of the affected contents. 


You should not attempt to clean up a puffback yourself. Puffbacks can affect every inch of your home or business. The soot from a puffback is greasy, toxic, and carcinogenic. The soot particles are small and very difficult to clean. Professionals have specialized Personal Protection Equipment that is required, as well as specialized cleaning solutions and tools. Vacuuming the carpet and wiping the walls with soap and water is not enough. Also, most insurance companies are reluctant to pay claims when the homeowner/business owner attempts to clean up the puffback themselves. 


  1. Help you with the insurance claims process 
  2. Do a complete cleaning of every surface affected by soot and smoke, as well as setting up equipment to clean the air within your home or business
  3. Clean your affected belongings, such as clothes, dishes, electronics, curtains, decorations, and furniture. This usually requires packing up your belongings to be cleaned at their facility, using specialized cleaning equipment. Your contents will be returned clean, deodorized, and free of soot and residue. 
  4. Arrange for an evaluation and repair of your heating system 

This blog was written by Gary Pinckney of the G.W. Savage Corp. With locations in South Burlington and Rutland, Vermont, we can service customers in most of the State. If you have questions, please call us at 1-800-684-0404.