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

Turning On Furnace

It’s a phenomenon that anyone who has lived in a cold place knows all too well: You turn on the heat during the first cold day of autumn, and a distinctive burning smell begins to fill your home.

It is only reasonable for you to be concerned about this. The smell of something burning instinctively raises alarm when you yourself are flammable. But if your furnace makes a burning smell when you turn it on for the first time in a while, you almost certainly have nothing to worry about!

What Is the Burning Smell Coming From Your Furnace?

In a word: dust.

In a few more words, the smell coming from your furnace when you turn it on for the first time in the fall is dust that has accumulated on its burners, heat exchanger, and other parts that normally get hot.

It’s easy to appreciate how the dust settles on those places. The average American home collects 40 pounds of dust in a single year. No matter how diligently you clean, some of that dust is bound to build up within your furnace (or on top of your electric heaters). Fortunately, the smell should stop once the dust has all burned away, which usually takes about one hour.

How Do You Stop the Burning Smell Coming From Your Furnace?

If you would like to avoid the smell of burning dust as much as possible, you may elect to change your furnace’s filter before turning on your heat for the first time of the season. This will not eliminate dust that has settled on your furnace’s inner workings, but it will reduce the amount of dust your furnace can suck in – not to mention save up to 15% on your heating bill.

You may also have your furnace tuned up before the weather gets cold. Part of any furnace tune-up includes a thorough cleaning of the heating system, so you’ll have a lot less burning dust to inhale during the first chilly day of the year. A tune-up can also save your furnace from breaking down once the weather has gotten truly polar!

Is an Abnormal Burning Smell Coming From Your Furnace?

If your furnace produces an unusual smell when you first turn it on – or begins emitting a smell long after any accumulated dust should have burned away – then you should be concerned.

The smell of burning plastic may indicate that one of your furnace’s essential components has failed. Plastic furnace parts including fan belts and capacitors may become singed or burned if they break, which indicates the need for immediate repair. Alternatively, the insulation protecting your wiring will stink of plastic if it begins to burn off, which demands similarly immediate attention from an HVAC professional.

Be on guard for the acrid, ozone smell of burning electrical components as well. This could indicate that your furnace’s blower motor is overheating or failing. Replacing your furnace’s filter may remedy this problem, as a clean filter will remove the obstruction the blower motor was struggling to overcome.

If the burning electrical smell persists after you have replaced the filter, then you may have damaged wiring or a malfunctioning heat exchanger. In that case, you should turn off your furnace and welcome a local HVAC expert to your home pronto.

Which local HVAC expert should you call? Well, if you live in the greater Sioux Falls area, we would highly recommend ourselves. PrairieSons is the tri-state area’s preeminent authority on all things heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and plumbing. If it heats, cools, or carries water and needs professional attention, then we welcome you to contact us today!