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Why Does My Furnace Smell Like Burning?

When you turn on the furnace in your Salem or Keizer, OR, home, you expect to get a rush of soothing warm air quickly and nothing else. However, furnaces are highly complicated pieces of machinery, and there’s a lot that can go wrong. One of the most common issues is to smell something burning, either through the vents or off the heater.

In general, if you smell something burning in your furnace, that problem will require heater repair from qualified professionals. However, that’s not always the case. So, we wanted to investigate why you can get burning smells from a furnace and the various things that can cause this.

Furnace Repair, Heater Repair

Why Your Furnace Smells Like Something Is Burning

1. It’s the first time firing up your furnace this year

Let’s start with the best-case scenario. If it’s your first time firing up the furnace, there’s a very good chance you’ll get musty or burning smells for a little while afterward. This is normal because the furnace has accumulated dust and grime during the months it’s been sitting unused. These get burned off as it heats up until everything combustible is gone.

As long as the smell goes away within an hour or so, there’s nothing to worry about. This could have been prevented by having a furnace check-up before firing it up, which is a good idea but not an absolute necessity.

2. It’s not your furnace; it’s your ducts

Regarding non-problems, what if you keep smelling the burning, but everything seems fine around your furnace? If that’s the case, the issue could easily be in your ducts. Ductwork also attracts dust, grime, oil, and other unpleasant substances. If these have built up during the hot months, they can then start burning or smoldering when the furnace heats the ductwork.

In this case, the solution is simple: professional duct cleaning. Having your ducts cleaned every five years (at minimum) or so is a good idea. This won’t merely prevent odd smells when you run the heater; it’ll also improve indoor air quality by clearing out the contaminants in your ducts.

In particular, dust forming around the exit vents in your ducts is a big sign they need to be cleaned. Ask about our duct cleaning service.

3. The air filter is clogged

When is the last time you cleaned the air filter in your furnace? It’s easy to forget about it, especially during the off-season. However, if the filter is clogged, that will cause many issues – potentially including odd smells. Basically, the furnace heats dust and other materials trapped in the filter, which smolders and sends the smell through your house.

So, check your air filter, which should be easy to access. Then either clean it off, if it’s not too dirty, or replace it. Replacements are cheap and readily available at any home improvement store and even most “big box” style stores.

4. Electrical problems

Now we’re getting into the more serious issues. If you know the problem isn’t in the ducts or the air filter, there’s the possibility of electrical issues. For example, mice or other critters might have gotten into the heater and started gnawing on the wires, causing sparks or shorts.

If it’s an electrical issue, you may be able to hear the sparking or smell ozone coming from the heater. Your house could also have brownouts or other more significant electrical problems in more severe cases.

If you suspect an electrical problem, do not attempt to fix it yourself. There’s a lot of current running through the furnace, and it’s genuinely dangerous for amateurs to work on. Shut down the furnace at the breaker box, if needed, and call for professional heater repairs in Salem immediately.

5. Mechanical problems

A heater has many moving parts, which should be properly lubricated and moving with minimum friction. However, if the lubrication has run out or parts have shifted, they can start rubbing against each other – producing heat and burning rubber or metal smells.

In this case, you’ll usually hear unusual sounds from inside the furnace, such as clanging, banging, or grinding. If your furnace ever gets noisy well beyond what it typically sounds like, that’s almost always a mechanical issue that needs professional care.

Don’t ignore the problem – it will almost certainly only get worse over time, and that means more expensive heater repairs when you do call for help.

6. Issues with portable heaters

If you’re using portable space heaters, most of the advice above applies. If you smell burning, the most likely causes are either contamination within the heater, electrical issues, or mechanical failure. These are often easier to detect with portable heaters since it’s smaller and the scents will be more concentrated.

However, also make sure to check the power source. Is the burning smell coming from the heater or the wall socket plugged into it? The power plug or power brick could also be the problem and will likely need to be replaced if so.

Melton’s Is Here to Keep Your Furnace Running Smoothly

Since 1966, we’ve been the go-to source for furnace repairs and heat pump repairs across the Willamette Valley. We’re proudly family-owned, with a team of experts who’ve been with the company for years. No matter how new or old your furnace is, we have the tools and skills to keep it running properly!

If you think you smell something burning around your furnace or heater, don’t wait for the problem to get worse. Contact Melton’s for great furnace repair in Salem or Keizer, OR, area.

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