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Should There Be a Burning Smell After Turning on the Heat?

If you’re like most people, you hold out as long as possible before turning on your heating system for the first time. But as the temperature drops consistently, your need for warmth increases, and you fire up that furnace. You may anticipate it or forget it from year to year, but a familiar burning smell will often emanate from the vents.   

Although you may recognize the smell, you shouldn’t ignore it. Sometimes this odor is expected, but other times it could be a sign of danger. In this article, you’ll find out what causes this odor, when it’s safe, and whether you can avoid it. 

What Causes the Burning Smell After You Turn on the Heat? 

Luckily, Californians don’t rely on our heating systems for much of the year. These systems sit dormant for most of the spring, summer, and fall, collecting dust within the equipment. 

On the day you decide to turn your furnace on, the layer of dust burns off after the system fires up. This burning dust is what may cause a burning smell upon turning on your heating system. In most situations, the odor will disperse after about an hour. However, if the smell continues for more than a day, you may have another problem. 

Can I Avoid the Burning Smell? 

Some homeowners tolerate the burning smell, while others find it unbearable. While it’s a normal part of turning on the system for the first time, you can reduce it with a few simple steps.    

Get a Tune-Up 

Having a professional tune-up before the cold season hits can reduce the amount of dust lingering on your system. Most tune-ups include cleaning the furnace interior as part of the service. This service eliminates the filth layer from your system before its first use and minimizes the burning smell — if not eliminating it altogether. 

Change the Air Filter 

When you change the air filter, it allows dust particles to be captured. They don’t continue recirculating throughout your home, causing the burning smell to linger. A new, clean air filter helps air flow properly, quickly filtering out the odor. Your old, potentially clogged filter will cause the smell to stay longer than you’d like. 

When the Burning Smell Isn’t Normal 

Remember, a short-lived burning smell is expected during the first use of your heating system. However, there are a few distinct smells that indicate there’s a reason for you to be concerned:

Burning Plastic 

When you smell burning plastic, your furnace may have a worn-out fan belt or other decaying parts. Only an experienced HVAC technician, like those from Rowland Air, should replace these components. 

Burning plastic odors may also indicate that the wire insulation is melting inside the furnace. This burning can happen if there is an electrical fault in your system. You should turn the heating system off and wait for a technician to address the issue.

Burning Electrical Components 

If your blower motor is overheating, you may notice an electrical smell. Your system may automatically shut itself off to prevent overheating. Unfortunately, if something is broken, it might continue operating and become dangerously hot. 

When your heating system smells like electrical components are burning, turn it off immediately and call your local Rowland Air HVAC technician.