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Why Your Furnace Smells Like It’s Burning

Why Your Furnace Smells Like It’s Burning

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furnace smells - why your furnace smells like it's burning - closeup of ventilation system vent

Many people get concerned when they notice an electrical burning smell coming from their furnace. Naturally, you will feel quite worried if your furnace smells like burning, but there are many reasons why this might happen that are actually quite normal. This article will cover them and what you can do in each case.

Common Reasons for a Burning Smell

If it’s been a while since you turned your furnace on (for example, if the cold season is just starting), chances are your furnace has accumulated a few layers of dust during its dormant period. This dust and particles tend to settle on internal components such as the burners and the heat exchanger. When you turn it on, you might instantly notice your furnace smells like burning.

Burning dust is one of the most common reasons why your furnace smells. It is also normal and not a safety hazard and will usually go away a few hours after the dust burns entirely.

However, if it’s been a few hours since you turned your furnace on, and it still smells like burning, it’s time to look at other possible culprits to explain your heating and cooling system malfunctioning.

You Might Have a Clogged Filter

  • If your furnace smells like burning, one possible reason would be a clogged or dirty air filter. When this happens, the blower motor in your heating system has to work harder to keep pushing the air through the filters, which can result in overheating. An overheated blower motor can explain why your furnace smells.


There is a Foreign Object in the heating System

  • If you notice a burning plastic smell, this could mean a foreign object (such as a plastic toy or a bottle cap) has made its way to your heating system. As the plastic burns and melts, it can emit that characteristic and awful burning plastic smell. This smell can be harmful to your health, so you should contact an HVAC professional immediately.


Your Components are Overheating and There is a Risk of Electrical Fire

  • If you notice an electrical burning smell, there might be a reason to be concerned. This could mean that an electrical fire could have happened (or is happening), and you no longer have a safety feature protecting your home from burning components. Call an HVAC technician without haste.


You Have an Overheated Fan Motor Causing a Gunpowder Smell

  • If your furnace is giving off a gunpowder smell, you could be facing an overheated motor. In this case, you should shut down your heating system immediately as it could be a serious problem. Have a technician visit your home and repair your furnace immediately.


Your Oil Filter is Faulty

  • If you have an oil furnace and you notice smoke when the burning smell starts, this could indicate a problem with the oil filter. You want to make sure the heating system does not overheat, so the best idea is to call an HVAC technician that can turn the unit off and carry out repairs.

Furnace Smell: What to Do

When trying to determine the origin of a burning smell, it’s always better to be safe. A professional will be able to quickly determine the cause (your furnace filter, a cracked heat exchanger, a clogged air filter, issues with the combustion process, accumulated dust, etc.) and let you know if you are facing a potential major safety hazard.

Hot plastic burning can be detrimental to your health, and a burning metallic smell could indicate issues with your components and hint at overheating. You could also actually be facing a more complex issue such as carbon monoxide or natural gas leaks (a natural gas leak will have more of a rotten egg smell).

Although you can expect a burning dust smell when you first turn your furnace for the season, if the smell persists, you should immediately turn off your system. Determine if the smell continues and contact an HVAC specialist for a potential furnace repair.

Our Services

Hawthorne PHC is a family-owned and operated plumbing, heating, air conditioning, and water filtration company based in Nevada. If your furnace smells like burning, we can help you determine the cause and quickly carry out any necessary repairs. Our technicians are available 24/7.

Don’t let your furnace leave you out in the cold – check out our list of related articles for more information on how to keep your home warm all winter!

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