As winter approaches and temperatures begin to drop, many homeowners turn on their heaters. Sometimes when you raise the temperature on your thermostat to warm up the inside of your home, you may be met with an unpleasant burning odor. If you have found yourself in this situation, don’t panic! 

While there are some odors that could be a sign of a potentially dangerous issue that requires calling a heating and cooling expert right away, there are plenty of other unwanted smells that are very common. Here, we’re talking all about the possible reasons that might be causing your heater to smell like it’s burning, as well as what you can do to safely handle these situations.

What is Causing that Burning Smell from your Heater?

There are a few likely and very common reasons why your heating system or furnace smells like it’s burning. While you should always have an experienced HVAC specialist handle any major issues with your system, there are some cases that you might be able to do some simple maintenance and troubleshooting all on your own to decrease that strong burning odor.

Dust on the Furnace

If you experience a burning smell when you first turn your heater after a few months, it is most likely caused by dust buildup on your furnace or heating unit. For home and business owners who live in a region that experiences constantly changing seasons, like in the Mid-Atlantic, it’s common for the furnace to smell this way after being out of use for a while. Dust begins to collect on your furnace or heating unit during the months it remains unused. Once you turn it on that first initial time after not using it for a while, this dust will burn off and cause a strong burning odor throughout the home.

When this happens, the only thing you can do is let the system run as normal for about 10 minutes and see if the odor decreases or goes away completely. If the odor remains or seems to be getting stronger, call an HVAC expert immediately and turn the unit to “off” mode.

Debris Trapped Inside the Heating System

While your heating system was not being used, it is possible that something may have accidentally gotten lodged into the HVAC device or the unit’s ductwork for central heating and cooling systems. If you have central heating with several vents throughout your home, see if you can narrow down the burning smell to one specific room or area. If you are able to do so, it is possible that there is something trapped inside the vent that is causing the unpleasant odor.

Once you are able to locate the room in which the smell is emitting from, try to reach the vent by safely standing on a raised surface. If you are able to open the vent and look inside, and see if you can see any foreign objects like toys, parts of the system, or any other objects trapped in the vent. Try to safely remove the object from your vent and then wait to see if the burning odor from the vent persists. If you are unable to safely remove the item from the vent, call a FiveStar HVAC professional to come out and assess the issue for you.

Dirty Air Filters or Air Vents

Gas furnace maintenance is essential when trying to prevent any unwanted burning smells coming out of the vents in your home. If your furnace has dirty filters or the air vents in your heating unit are clogged, this buildup can cause the growth of mold or mildew inside your heating system or ductwork. This can result in musty odors emitting from the vents after turning on your heating unit.

If you’re experiencing an unpleasant  musty scent coming from your furnace or heating system, turn your unit completely off. Then, you can have your filter cleaned out or replaced inside your unit and then you may try running it again to see if that solved the issue. If a freshly cleaned filter doesn’t eliminate the odor, call in a certified HVAC expert to inspect your heating unit and ductwork.

Damaged Electrical Wires

A burning electrical smell emitting from your heater, ductwork, or air vents could be a sign that you have a serious and potentially dangerous problem. Run-of-the-Mill wear and tear over a long period of time or improper installation of an HVAC unit could cause damage to your heating system’s electrical wiring. If you think your HVAC’s electrical wiring may be damaged, it can cause a cracked heat exchanger, an overheated blower motor, as well as a variety of other serious issues that would be better avoided. All of the above heating system issues are serious and should be assessed by a highly-trained, licensed heating and cooling specialist as soon as possible.

If you think you may be experiencing a serious electrical wiring issue with your HVAC unit that may be causing a burning scent, it is crucial that you turn off your system immediately and contact your trusted heating and cooling professionals to carefully assess and repair the problem.

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