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Why Your Furnace Smells Like It’s Burning

Does your furnace smell like it’s burning? When the temperatures begin to drop, you’ll probably rely on your furnace to stay warm and comfortable. Conventional wisdom, however, should lead you to believe that a burning smell isn’t normal. If you notice a burning smell when running your furnace, you should try to determine what’s causing it.

Excess Dust

The most common cause of this phenomenon is excess dust. Whether gas or electric, all furnaces have a heating element. As air flows over the heating element, the air will become warmer. This newly warmed and conditioned air will then enter your home’s ductwork where it’s distributed into various rooms. Allowing dust to accumulate on your furnace’s heating element, however, can create a burning smell.

Dust is highly combustible. Even if it’s not directly exposed to a flame, it may ignite and burn. If your furnace’s heating element is covered in dust, you may notice a burning smell. The burning smell typically only occurs the first one or two times that you run your furnace during the winter. After running your furnace for a few times, the dust will be burned off and, thus, will no longer produce a smell.

As long as the burning smell goes away after running your furnace once or twice, you typically don’t need to worry about it. It the burning smell persists, on the other hand, you should get your furnace professionally inspected.

Electrical Damage

While not as common as excess dust, electrical damage – or electrical failure – can cause your furnace to produce a burning smell. Furnaces have a variety of electrical components. Electric furnaces, of course, have an electric heating element. With that said, even gas furnaces have electrical components like circuit boards and relays.

The burning smell from electrical damage is different than that of excess dust. Excess dust has a cleaner, albeit still unpleasant, burning smell. With electrical damage, you may notice a plastic-like burning smell that’s stronger and more pungent.

If you believe your furnace has sustained electrical damage or electrical failure, you should get it professionally inspected as soon as possible. Allowing electrical problems to go unnoticed can lead to a house fire.

In Conclusion

Furnaces often produce a burning smell from either excess dust or electrical damage. In the former scenario, dust will build up on the heating element where it’s ignited. In the latter scenario, electrical components may burn while creating a stronger plastic-burning smell.