Why does your furnace smell?

As fall ushers in cooler temperatures, our phones start ringing because homeowners are preparing for the change of seasons. Along with calls requesting routine furnace maintenance, we always get a handful of calls from concerned homeowners who report a burning smell coming from their furnace. While this smell can be concerning, more often than not, it’s nothing to sound the proverbial fire alarm. Here’s why.

Settled dust

Given Indiana’s seasonal climate, it’s a fact that furnaces lie dormant during the summer months. After sitting idle for half a year or longer, elements within your heating system can collect dust. When you crank up the heat for the first time, the settled dust will burn off, producing a burning odor that circulates through the air ducts. This smell should dissipate within a few hours and maybe sooner by opening your windows. If it doesn’t or you’re still concerned, call us, and we’ll be glad to come out and take a look.

Heat strips activation

While furnaces can emit odors at the beginning of the colder months, it’s not uncommon during frigid Indiana winters for burning odors to occur when heat strips are activated. This happens when temperatures are really low, or if you have recently adjusted your thermostat more than a few degrees to increase the indoor temperature. This is because the heat strips in your furnace’s air handler are being activated to supplement the system’s attempt to turn up the heat.  If heat strips haven’t been activated in several months, it’s possible that dust could have built up, and this too shall burn off within a few hours time.

Causes for concern

Although a little dust never hurt anyone, there are times when burning smells are indeed a cause for concern.  If you happen to notice the smell beyond the beginning of the season or for a brief time when temperatures plummet, it could be the result of faulty heater components such as a clogged air filter, which can cause your blower motor to work harder and cause overheating. It also could be electrical shorts, which could potentially melt wires or insulators. Both issues are fire hazards, and should not be ignored. Because these problems are not as easy for homeowners to diagnose, we at Hoosier Indoor Air are happy to assist in determining the cause of your burning smells.

AdiveAdditional considerations

Earlier this year, we offered tips to ensure winter doesn’t blitz your home, and we recommended having your furnace serviced every season. We cannot stress the importance of doing this. Taking such action can prevent problems, and will keep your system operating safely and efficiently while saving you money.  You should also regularly replace furnace filters to reduce allergens and odors. We also recommend having your air ducts cleaned to eliminate musty smells that can cause mold growth.

Fall and winter in Indiana can be enjoyable times, and that’s because when you work with Hoosier Indoor Air, you know your home and furnace will be ready for cooler temperatures. That alone can help you relax, knowing there’s no cause for alarm. Concerned about a strange furnace smell? For more information about burning odors or to schedule furnace maintenance, contact us today.   

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