Why Does My Heater Smell Like Something Is Burning?

water heater unit

As the seasons change, our heating and cooling needs change, too. Each fall, as you turn off your air conditioner and turn on your furnace or heater for the first time, you may notice a strange smell coming from your heating vents. Some of these smells are harmless, while others may be dangerous.

Read on to learn about some of the most common heater or furnace smells, like the smell of burning plastic, and what they mean …

Why Does My House Smell of Burning Plastic?

If your house smells of burning plastic, take caution. The smell of burning plastic could be a sign of an overheated household appliance, a kitchen accident, or a problem with the HVAC system. Heaters and furnaces may smell of burnt plastic when their parts are broken or worn out. Parts that may need to be replaced include:

  1. The capacitor
  2. Plastic-coated wires (that may have caused an electrical fault)
  3. The fan belt

These issues should be addressed in a timely manner to prevent further damage to the unit. Your local Aire Serv® technician can help you identify the source of the smell and replace any damaged parts.

If the smell continues to grow stronger and you cannot identify its source, call your local fire department for assistance. This smell could be indicative of a mechanical malfunction.

My Heater Has a Burning Electrical Odor

An electrical burning odor could indicate an overheated blower motor in your furnace or heater. Under normal operating conditions the furnace should shut itself off if it begins to overheat. But if there’s something wrong with this safety feature, your furnace may continue to operate even as the motor works overtime and becomes dangerously hot.

If you notice a metallic or burning electrical odor, begin by replacing your units filter. A clogged air filter may be causing your unit to work overtime. If the smell persists, contact your local Aire Serv.

My Heater Smells Like Gunpowder

A distinctive gunpowder-like aroma could be the result of a fried circuit board or fan motor. It’s not a good idea to continue running your furnace if it emits this smell. Instead, call a professional to perform an emergency inspection before turning the heater back on.

My Furnace Smells Like Burning Dust

After months of disuse, dust has settled on the heat exchanger, burners, and other heating components. When the burners ignite, the dust burns off, and the odor exits through your air vents. The smell of burning dust is very common when turning on the furnace for the first time in the fall.

This smell should dissipate within a few hours and is no cause for concern. If the odor persists, try changing the air filter. Minimize the reoccurrence of this smell by scheduling an air duct cleaning with a local Aire Serv technician before heating season begins.

My Home Smells Smoky or Oily During Heating Season

You are most likely to encounter smoky or oily smells in your home if you heat your house with an oil furnace. You should never be able to smell your oil furnace inside your house. Address the problem first by turning off the heater and changing the oil filter. If the problem persists, turn the unit off and call your local Aire Serv for professional assistance.

Are All Furnace Smells Dangerous?

In short, no. Not all furnace smells are dangerous—but they should be investigated. For example, the smell of burning dust that lasts just a few hours and doesn’t return later in the season is nothing to worry about. Whereas the smell of burning plastic or oil could indicate something very dangerous.

Choose Aire Serv for Heater and Furnace Maintenance and Repair Services

If you have a strange smell coming from your heater or furnace or through your vents, call Aire Serv today. Our technicians are here to diagnose and solve all your HVAC issues including heater and furnace maintenance, repair, replacement, and air duct cleaning. Call us or request an appointment online to get started.

If you can not identify a burning smell in your home, take precaution and call your local fire department for an inspection.