Why Does My Furnace Smell Like It’s Burning?

We have all experienced that initial furnace smell that harkens the first official day of Fall and cooler weather. While the smell of something burning is usually a valid cause for concern, it is entirely normal for this smell to occur when you first turn on your furnace at the start of the cold weather season, and usually dissipates after a few hours.

However, there are other types of burning smells that can occur beyond this initial start-up smell that could mean more harmful implications. If you are concerned about the burning smell your furnace is creating, continue reading to learn from the professionals at Bardi Heating & Air on how to tell the difference between normal smells and harmful smells.

Burning Dust Odor

As previously mentioned, it is normal for your furnace to initially give off a burning smell when you first turn it on for the cold weather season. This smell occurs when the burners ignite, burning the dust that has settled on the heat exchanger, burners, and other heating components after months of disuse.

This smell is difficult to describe but is typically milder and is a normal occurrence that should dissipate after a couple of hours. If the smell does persist, then you might need to change your air filters.

Electrical Burning Odor

This smell is like that of burning rubber and is an odor you should be more concerned about, as it could indicate an overheated blower motor. It could also mean that something has dropped into your HVAC system’s ductwork and is overheated.

To assess and fix the cause of this odor take the following steps:

  1. Check your HVAC system’s ductwork for any foreign objects that might have accidentally been dropped or spilled. This could be a child’s toy or any unnoticed spill. Do this by removing your registers and visually inspecting them to clean or remove any foreign objects that do not belong.
  2. If you did not find any foreign objects in your ductwork, the smell could be the result of a cracked heat exchanger or an overheated furnace motor. If this is the case, you should call a professional HVAC technician as soon as possible.

Smoke or Burning Oil Odor

The smell of smoke likely points to a problem with your chimney. There may be something blocking the chimney, which is what may be causing the scent of smoke when your furnace is running.

If you have an oil furnace and encounter this smell, it may mean that you need to change the oil filters. To assess and fix the cause of this odor, take the following steps:

  1. Turn your furnace off and have a professional inspect your chimney for any blockages.
  2. If you have an oil furnace, turn off the heater and change the oil filter.
  3. If the smell persists, call an HVAC professional to diagnose and fix the problem.

*Pro tip: have a professional inspect your chimney at the beginning of the cold season to stay ahead of any heating or ventilation issues that may arise.

Gunpowder Smell

This is a very distinctive smell that should be addressed immediately, as it could indicate a fried circuit board or fan motor. If your furnace emits this smell it is not a good idea to continue running it.

Instead, you should call a professional HVAC technician for an emergency inspection before turning the heater back on.

To summarize, a mild burning dust smell when you first turn your furnace on should not be cause for alarm, particularly if it dissipates after a few hours. However, all other and more potent types of burning odors could be potentially hazardous and warrant an inspection by your local HVAC professionals.

If you are concerned about the quality of odor from your furnace, do not hesitate to contact Bardi Heating & Air today. We have knowledgeable technicians ready to answer questions, give inspections and perform emergency repairs if your situation has become hazardous.


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