Why Does My Furnace Smell Like Its Burning?

Every year around this time our customers come to us with concerns about a burning smell coming from their furnace. Naturally, this is a worrisome situation for many because in our minds a burning smell heralds a fire. However, this is not always the case and the smell could be completely harmless and normal, even expected. Read on to find out when you should and should not be concerned when your furnace smells like somethings on fire. 

Your Furnace is Shaking the Dust Off After Its Long Summer Nap

It happens this time of year because October is typically the month everyone gives into the change of season and turns on the heater for the first time. During your furnace’s dormant period it has accumulated layers of dust on its internal components, such as the heat exchanger as well as in and around the burners. 

As your furnace heats back up it is burning this dust off, hence the burning smell. This is normal and is not considered to be a safety hazard. The smell should go away after a few hours once the furnace burns all the dust away. 

Tip: to minimize this annoying smell, consider turning on your furnace during a mild day where you can open the windows and let the burning smell waft away without compromising your comfort and every usage. 

Okay, But Its Been A Few Hours and It Still Smells Like Burning

Well, now we might have a problem. If your furnace is still emitting a burning smell after having it on for a long time there is a chance that your air filter is clogged or worse, there is an electrical issue.

First, check your filter. If it is in fact, clogged your blower motor is most likely working overtime and beginning to overheat, producing the burning smell. Not to mention the clogged filter will produce dirt and debris to buildup on the furnace which would also smell like burning. Change the filter and consider calling a pro in to cleanup/tuneup the system. 

If the filter isn’t clogged and you think it might be an electrical issue call one of our technicians immediately as this can be a major fire hazard. Normally, a furnace will power itself down when it begins to overheat; if it doesn’t, the safety feature is compromised and will need service as soon as possible. 

The Smell is Persistent and the Burning Smells Like Plastic 

This could be from a number of reasons: a foreign object made its way into your HVAC system. Anything from a child’s toy to a plastic fork could’ve gotten down there and is now wreaking havoc on your nostrils. The scent of burning plastic could also be from an overheating kitchen appliance or more still, there might be issues in your unit with broken down or worn out furnace parts. Regardless of the reason for this particular smell an HVAC specialist needs to handle it in a timely manner to avoid further damage to your unit and safety, as bunting plastic can emit toxic fumes. 

What About A GunPowder Smell? 

Anything associated with gunpowder probably seems like a major safety hazard but really its just dangerous for the system. This specific aroma is most likely the result of a fried-circuit board or an overheated fan motor. Either way it is not a good idea to continue running your furnace. Hit the off switch and call an HVAC pro on the double.

Burning Oil or a Smoky Scent…?

While heating essential oils seems to be the latest fad, an oily scent from your furnace is not good for you or your “chakras”. This oily or smoky scent comes from an oil furnace that needs an oil filter change to avoid overheating. If, after the change, the smell continues damage was most likely done to the system and an HVAC specialist needs to be called. In the meantime, turn off the unit ASAP as some problems can cause the system to catch fire. 

All furnace smells are not created equal, that being said, while they are not all dangerous they should all be investigated if they are persistent. For example, if your house smells like burning dust when you first turn it on and goes away after a few hours with returning, there is nothing to worry about. Persistent burning, burning plastic, gunpowder or smoky oils must be dealt with immediately as they are either a safety hazard, a huge risk to your system, or both. If you’ve got a questionable smell coming from your furnace contact us at Luxury Heating & Air Conditioning today, we are here to diagnose and be the solution to all your HVAC problems.