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Why Does It Smell Like Something Is Burning When I Turn On My Furnace?

man checking airflow out of wall register

As the weather gets cooler and nighttime gets chillier, you might feel like it’s finally time to turn on your furnace to stay comfortable. But uh-oh: you’ve just switched on the furnace, and now you smell something burning!

Before you panic, just know that this is actually a pretty normal thing to smell when turning on your furnace for the first time in the fall. Below, we’ll explain what causes the burning odor and when it’s time to involve a technician.

What Causes a Burning Smell When Turning Your Furnace On In the Fall?

What most people don’t realize is that furnaces get dusty--really dusty. Dust collects on just about every part of your furnace and heating system, including the burners, heat sensor, motor, air ducts, and more.

When you first fire up your furnace for the season, the dust and dirt on the internal components burn off. This can create a faint burning smell that you may detect coming from your attic, utility closet, or air ducts (wherever your heating system is located). This odor should go away fairly quickly (within an hour) and is not cause for major concern. Pro Tip: Always make sure to put in a new air filter when starting your furnace up for the season, and double-check that the filter is facing the right way.

Keep in mind, the smell of burning dust indicates that your furnace would benefit from some preventative maintenance. Dust and dirt buildup is one of the leading causes of furnace issues. Not only does it make your heating equipment work harder and perform less efficiently, but it can ultimately lead to a breakdown when you need heat the most.

When Should I Involve a Technician?

If that burning odor doesn’t go away after an hour, it’s definitely time to involve a heating professional. For safety, shut your system off, and call a trusted HVAC contractor and tell them about the burning smell.

Some possible causes behind burning smells in furnaces include issues such as:

  • A clogged air filter
  • Overheating electrical components
  • An overheating fan motor
  • A foreign object burning inside your furnace
  • A dirty oil filter (in oil furnaces)

Need assistance with your furnace? The heating professionals at Quality Plumbing, Heating, Cooling & Electrical are here to help! Contact us online or call us today at (865) 622-7785!

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