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Fire & Water - Cleanup & Restoration

A Primer on Puff Backs

10/19/2018 (Permalink)

SERVPRO of The East End is available 24/7/365 to make it 'Like it never even happened'. Call us for all of your Cleaning & Restoration needs.

As the crisp days of autumn herald in the longer, frostier days and nights of another Northeastern Winter, many of us shift from retiring the air conditioners to turning up the thermostats on our heating units. For some, turning the heat on for the first time in the season calls attention to problems with the furnace and we may end up experiencing a “puff back.”

How Does a Puff Back Occur?

A puff back happens when an oil burner doesn't immediately ignite and oil fumes are allowed to build up before ignition. This results in an explosion similar to what happens when a car backfires.  It may also occur from a buildup of debris, causing an explosion when the furnace turns on.  In either case, the explosion forces soot and debris through the furnace or the boiler's exhaust system and into your home or business.  The problem is worse with forced hot air systems as the heating ducts spread black soot into every corner of your home, with the same efficiency that they spread heat throughout your property.

Fact #1: Most puff back cleanups are covered by insurance. And the professionals at SERVPRO of The East End can clean it all up "Like it never even happened.” Our customers often tell us that their properties look and smell cleaner than it ever did before!

During a puff back event, oil based soot typically covers all areas of the property including drapes, bedding, furniture, clothing, cabinetry, ceilings, walls and floors, all of which is extremely difficult to remove. In most instances, you will know that you’ve had a puff back! But there may be times when it is harder to detect because the soot coverage can range from a light dusting to a concentrated dark appearance especially on flat surfaces like counter tops. While you may be tempted to clean the affected area yourself, we don’t recommend you do that as the "dust" will likely re-appear hours afterwards. There may or may be a strong odor in the affected rooms.  Don’t be fooled that the dust is only where you see it. It travels everywhere that the air does—into every nook and cranny. Sometimes you will find what you think are black “spider webs” in the corners of a room. These marks are actually a collection of the sticky soot. At SERVPRO of The East End, we have the appropriate equipment, knowledge, experience and training to make it ‘Like it never even happened”.

There are many reasons puff backs happen. These vary from the age of the burner, to maintenance and/or malfunction issues.

Fact # 2: The cost to repair a furnace will NOT likely be covered by insurance. 

Puff backs create an unhealthy environment for everyone and you should not touch or breathe the soot or particles that are floating through the air and landing on the surfaces of your property. Like the exhaust from a car – these particles can be a carcinogenic for us and our loved ones to be breathing in.  It's especially unhealthy for young children the elderly and pets.

Fact #3: Most oil companies can also inspect and service the boiler at your property, which greatly reduces the chances of a puff back. However, there is no guarantee against such an occurrence.

10 things you should do after a puff back:

  1. Limit movement in the home or business to prevent soot particles from becoming embedded in the upholstery and carpets.
  2. Keep hands clean so you do not spread the damage further.
  3. Place clean towels or old linens on rugs, upholstery and carpet traffic areas.
  4. Once the electricity is off, empty your refrigerator and freezer and prop the doors open.
  5. Clean and protect chrome with a light coating of petroleum jelly or oil.
  6. Wash your houseplants on both sides of the leaves.
  7. Tape double layers of cheesecloth over your air duct registers.
  8. Throw away all exposed food.
  9. Call a repairman to fix the malfunctioning furnace
  10. Call SERVPRO of The East End to clean up the soot and chemicals.

5 things you should NOT do after a puff back:

  1. Don't attempt to wash any walls, wallpaper or painted surfaces. Don't shampoo your carpet or upholstery without contacting us.
  2. Don’t use standard cleaning products that may cause further damage and may not get rid of the oil residue, toxins and odors.
  3. Don't attempt to clean any electrical appliances that may have been close to fire, heat or water without consulting an authorized repair service.
  4. Don't turn on ceiling fans or increase air circulation as this will only spread the soot around.
  5. Don't send garments to an ordinary dry cleaner. Improper cleaning may set smoke odor. 


If you have experienced a puff back or fire damage in your home or business, you can trust SERVPRO of The East End to restore your property to be ‘Faster to any size disaster’ and make it 'Like it never even happened.' Our team of IICRC trained and certified professionals are available 24/7 365 days a week. We will treat your property, family and employees with the utmost of compassion, respect and consideration, and work quickly and efficiently to minimize damage and cost. We work with insurance companies and are regularly recommended by local HVAC Companies. We have been proudly serving our community in mitigating fire, mold, storm and water damage on the East End of Long Island for over 40 years. 

Call SERVPRO of The East End at 631-653-9595 for all of your fire, mold, storm and water damage needs.

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