Is a Burning Smell Normal When I Turn on the Heat?

January 18, 2023
Furnace maintenance in Roseville, MI

Should Your Furnace Smell Like It’s Burning?

You turn on the furnace and start to feel its warmth rising from your vents. But then you smell it. There’s a faint scent of something burning. Is this normal, or do you need to shut down your furnace right away? In most cases, a faint burning smell is no cause for concern, but there are some exceptions. Learn how to distinguish normal startup smells from troubling ones.

Burning Smell at Start-up

Your Michigan furnace got a few months of rest over the summer. Now that the weather’s turning cooler, you’re ready to switch it back on. During the break, though, a thin layer of dust may have accumulated on the interior components. When you power up the furnace, that dust is going to burn off. In most cases, the burning dust is the source of an unusual odor at startup. It’s usually nothing to worry about.

If you wait a bit, it should go away. The dust usually burns off in less than an hour. As long as the smell dissipates quickly, you can breathe a sigh of relief. If the odor is persistent, though — lasting several hours or more than a day — it’s smart to call for furnace service. There may be a bigger issue going on.

Midseason Burning Smells

While it’s normal to get a whiff of something burning when you first power up your system for the year, a burning smell that begins in the middle of the season is more concerning. Something may have gone wrong inside your furnace to cause the odor.

When that happens, your best bet is to call a professional. Small furnace problems can quickly become major issues if left unchecked. They could damage your system or become dangerous. Reaching out to C & C Heating & Air Conditioning in Roseville right away may allow you to address the problem before it turns serious.

Duct or Vent Problems

Foreign objects, including excessive dust, inside your ductwork could cause a burning smell. In other cases, duct problems could give your house a musty odor. You may be able to spot something that’s fallen inside one of your vents to cause the problem. The solution isn’t always that easy, though.

It might be time to have your ductwork cleaned. A professional service, such as C & C Heating & Air Conditioning, will give thorough attention to every surface in your ductwork system. That includes not only the insides of the ducts but also the fans and the vents. The project can remove dust, mildew and other sources of odor.

Along the same lines, unpleasant odors could be a sign that your furnace is due for a new filter. A dirty filter can no longer trap dust and particulates as effectively. Bothersome smells may be more likely to travel throughout your house.

Electrical Smells

The odor caused by dirty filters or ducts can be unpleasant, but it may not have the sharp smell of an electrical fire. If you notice electrical smells, immediate attention is in order. Something may have gone wrong with the wiring in your furnace.

The furnace has a variety of electrical components. Over time, the wires can wear out. An unusual odor may be the first sign you notice. Damaged wiring can then lead to other problems. For instance, the heat exchanger might crack. That would end up being a more expensive repair than fixing the wiring alone.

The sooner you address the electrical smell, the better. It’s a job for the pros, so make a call to your furnace service company right away. That’s the best way to protect your system and keep your family safe.

Overheated Motor

An electrical smell might also be related to an overheated motor. That can happen when the air isn’t able to move properly through the system. Trapped air can disrupt the motor. This is another reason to make sure that your filter, ducts and vents are clean. When these components become clogged with dust, a backup is more likely to happen. Not all overheating is related to dust and debris, though. Sometimes, motors overheat because of wiring issues. Once again, calling for professional service is the best way to identify the problem accurately.

Burning Plastic Smells

An electrical odor emanating from your heating system is a serious cause for concern. So, too, is the scent of burning plastic. It can be a sign that something inside your furnace is breaking down.

For instance, electrical wires usually have plastic insulation. In certain circumstances, it could start to melt. That’s a clear sign that something has gone wrong with the wiring. It could be quite unsafe for your family, so immediate attention is required. On the other hand, the plastic scent might be coming from another part of your furnace. A rubber belt, such as the fan belt, is a likely culprit. The capacitor could be another source of the problem.

Gunpower Odors

The scent of gunpowder is quite distinctive. If you smell it in your home, you’re sure to take notice. The gunpowder smell might develop if the circuit board on your furnace burns out. It can also happen if the fan motor stops working. In either case, you should stop running your furnace until you have it looked at by a professional.

Importance of Regular Furnace Maintenance

Burning smells are unpleasant. You might not enjoy them at the beginning of the season, and you certainly won’t want them to develop because of a problem in the middle of winter. Is there a way to avoid such issues? The best thing you can do to guard against burning scents is to schedule an annual furnace tune-up.

During a maintenance call, a heating technician will clean your furnace. Removing dust and debris from the inside of the system can reduce the likelihood of a burning smell at startup. Also, the tech will check for signs of wear and tear. That will allow you to replace problematic components before they give out entirely. With prompt attention, the issues may never have a chance to cause electrical, plastic or gunpowder odors.

The best time to have this check performed is before you start using your furnace for the year. Once you start running your system, it will be too late to prevent the annual burn-off scent at the beginning of the season. Even still, better late than never is a worthwhile guideline. If you haven’t had your furnace inspected in a while, it might be a good idea to schedule a midwinter maintenance call. That way, you can make sure that all the parts are in working order. You can then rest easy in the knowledge that you shouldn’t have to worry about a burning smell beginning anytime soon.

When you need heating maintenance or repair in the Detroit area, turn to C & C Heating & Air Conditioning. We install new heating systems as well. Our team also specializes in air conditioners, water heaters, ductwork and indoor air quality. Contact C & C Heating & Air Conditioning today to schedule your heating or cooling appointment.

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