Many homeowners ask, “Why does my furnace smell like burning?” We rely on our furnaces, especially during winter, but we might worry when they greet us with a burning smell.
However, a burning odor from your furnace isn’t always a cause for concern. While the smell can be unpleasant, it may also be completely harmless or expected.
This blog post will explore why a furnace may smell like it’s burning and when to call your trusted El Cajon furnace repair contractors for an inspection or repair.
Top 5 Reasons Why Your Furnace Smells Like It’s Burning
A burning furnace smell is never pleasant, but it could be harmless. Here are five reasons why your furnace smells like it’s burning.
1. It’s Getting Rid of Dust
Depending on where you live and your needs, October might be the first time you’ve turned on your furnace since the previous winter. October is when the weather starts changing from pleasantly warm to slightly chilly.
You may have kept your furnace off for months. During this short hibernation, accumulated dust layers gather on your furnace. These layers may target your furnace’s heat exchangers and other internal parts, including its burners.
Turning your furnace back on burns this excess dust off, leading to the smell. While it might make you want to light a few candles or turn on the fan, this process is normal and harmless. The smell will go away once all the dust burns up.
This process may still occur even if you keep your home and air ducts relatively clean. You can try cleaning your furnace to reduce the burning smell. However, it’s better to leave its internal components alone to avoid creating a real problem.
Instead, turn your furnace on during a relatively warm day before the chilly weather sets in. Then, open your windows and let all the burning dust waft away.
2. You May Have a Dirty Air Filter or Electrical Issue
If the burning smell persists after a few hours, you may have a problem. Electrical issues are common in furnaces, but you should first rule out a clogged or dirty air filter.
A congested air filter leads to a clogged blower motor, forcing it to jump into overdrive. Unfortunately, this overdrive will cause your whole system to overheat, emitting a burning odor. This process also triggers debris and dirt to gather on your furnace.
Changing your air filter might be enough to resolve the problem. You can also have an HVAC professional tune up your system.
If the filter doesn’t appear clogged or dirty, and you’re still asking, “Why does my furnace smell like burning?” call a technician. You may have an electrical issue or compromised safety feature, both of which can create a significant fire hazard.
Melting wire casings are something you should take seriously.
3. It Smells Like Burning Plastic
Burning plastic produces a very distinct and unpleasant odor. If you smell burning plastic coming from your furnace, it might be one of three things:
- A foreign object: Getting rid of a melted toy or plastic spoon isn’t fun. The good news is that a melting plastic object is easier to deal with than the two other potential issues.
- An overheating appliance: You may have an overheating kitchen appliance, leading to the smell of burnt plastic.
- Worn-out parts: Your furnace could contain broken or worn-out parts.
Whether your child dropped a plastic toy or you believe you have a broken furnace part, you’ll want to call furnace technicians to deal with the problem.
4. You Notice the Smell of Gunpowder
Smelling something resembling gunpowder sounds like it should be a significant safety hazard. However, such an odor generally means your furnace is experiencing issues like an overheating fan motor or a fried circuit board.
Generally, neither issue is an immediate risk to your health. However, they can further damage your furnace. Turn off your furnace and call one of our technicians to deal with the problem.
5. A Smoky or Burning Oil Odor
Heating essential oils is a popular trend, especially during the autumn season. For many, essential oils and incense go hand in hand with pumpkin spice candles.
However, the smell of burning oil from your furnace is never a good sign. Many people also describe it as a smoky scent. Either way, you should change your oil filter in such cases.
If the smell persists, your system is most likely in need of repair. An HVAC technician can diagnose and resolve the issue. You’ll want to turn off your system beforehand to avoid a fire hazard.
How Can I Prevent These Burning Smells?
Next to asking, “Why does my furnace smell like burning?” you might wonder whether there are any ways to prevent these unpleasant odors.
Sometimes, you can’t prevent too much dust from building up or accidentally dropping a plastic object into your furnace. Regular maintenance is essential to prevent issues like parts from breaking down.
You should service your furnace at least once a year, generally right before fall. A technician will inspect, clean, and tune up key components, including the following:
- Your heat exchanger
- Your pilot light
- Your furnace’s air filter and more
However, even with annual inspections and maintenance, it’s critical to factor in your furnace’s longevity. The average furnace lasts between 15 to 20 years. Regular maintenance can extend this period, but it isn’t foolproof.
Our technicians can expertly inspect your furnace and determine the best course of action. We aim to help you maximize savings and prefer regular tune-ups and repairs over replacements.
Get Your Furnace Ready By Calling Us Today
The answer to “Why does my furnace smell like burning?” is that it depends entirely on your situation. Our team can check your furnace to see whether there’s any foul play involved or whether it’s simply burning away dust.