Is a Burning Smell Normal When I Turn on the Heat?

Smart thermostats in Burbank, CA

If you have recently turned on the heat and noticed a burning smell, it can be quite alarming. It does not necessarily mean that something is going wrong with your system, particularly if it hasn’t been turned on for a while. In instances like this, such a thing happening is actually pretty normal and is often not a cause for concern. There are times, however, when it could be an indicator of a real problem, so it’s important to know when it is time to relax and when it is time to shut down your system and call in a professional.

When Not to Worry About a Burning Smell

If your heater has not been turned on for a while, it is likely that dust and other particles have accumulated on the heat exchanger, burners, or other components. When you turn the heater on for the first time in months, the smell is likely these particles burning off. This smell is then carried through the air vents until it is all burned away. Let the heater run for about 10 minutes, and the smell will likely dissipate. If it does not go away, then it is time to call a professional.

When a Burning Smell Can Be an Actual Problem

Electrical Problems

If you smell something like burning plastic, this could mean that wiring or components are melting. This can happen from wear and tear or a poor installation, which has led to damaged wiring or components. When you notice a smell like this, it is important that you turn off the system immediately and contact a professional. Faulty wiring can also cause the blower motor to overheat, which could also be the source of the smell. Most heating systems have a safeguard against overheating and automatically shut down once they get too hot. However, this safeguard could malfunction if the wiring is faulty.

Something Got Into the Heating System

A burning plastic smell could also indicate that a foreign object got into your vents or ducts. This is most common when you have kids or pets as one of their toys could easily wind up where it shouldn’t. Burning plastic can create toxic fumes that are unsafe to breathe. You also have no way of knowing if the plastic smell is something like a toy or an electrical issue until the cause of the smell is found. To be safe, shut down the heater and have a professional come out to inspect the system.

Old Filter

If the filters in your heating system are not regularly replaced, they have the potential to get clogged, which can lead to a burning smell. Dirty filters can also make your blower work too hard to move air. This will lead to it overheating and creating a burning smell. Replacing your filters every three months will help prevent this from happening, but if it is already occurring, you will need to shut off your system and get immediate help from a professional.

Bacteria and Mold

It is possible that the burning smell is from an accumulation of bacteria and mold in your ducts. If it is a musty burning smell or like a dirty sock that is aflame, there is a good chance that bacteria or mold is to blame. Cleaning your air ducts is the best way to get rid of this issue, but you should leave this to an HVAC professional. Leaving a job like this to a trained technician ensures that the job will be done correctly, using the right chemicals and tools.

Gas or Oil

If you smell burning, accompanied by the smell of gas or oil, this means that there is potentially a gas or fuel leak. Shut your system down immediately. Even if you do not smell burning but do smell gas or fuel near your heating device, turn the system off or avoid turning it on in the first place before a technician can take a look at it.

How to Avoid Getting a Burning Smell When You Turn On the Heat

The best thing you can do to avoid a burning smell when you turn on your heater is to properly maintain your heating system. Having a licensed technician do routine maintenance on your system will help make sure that there are no issues that would cause such a smell to occur.

Here is what you can expect during a routine maintenance appointment.

Inspection of Your System

First off, during a routine maintenance appointment, your HVAC technician is going to inspect your system for any potential problems, including anything that might lead to a burning smell. Any damaged parts will be identified. They will check the indoor and outdoor system components. Also inspected will be any electrical lines, propellers, filters, ductwork, and thermostat.

Fixing Any Issues

Should your system have any issues, your technician will then troubleshoot them. If any parts need to be replaced, they will do so. If any of the issues turn out to be beyond repair, the technician will recommend a replacement.

Cleaning of the System

Between maintenance appointments, your heating system can get very dirty. When your HVAC technician does a routine maintenance appointment, part of what they do is clean your system. This cleaning keeps your equipment running smoothly. It also clears the system and its components of any built-up dust, debris, or other contaminants. Having a routine maintenance check that includes cleaning before you turn your system on after a period of inactivity means a much lesser likelihood of encountering a burning smell.

Speaking to a Professional

Air Max HVAC has been around for over 20 years, serving Burbank, CA, and the surrounding areas. In our many years of service, we have developed a strong reputation in the community. We show our appreciation by seeing our relationship with the community as a partnership and honoring that partnership with our commitment to honesty, integrity, and quality. Through our many years of service, we have likely seen just about any problem under the sun and feel confident that we can get to the root of what is causing your burning smell. Once the root cause is determined, we can set up a routine maintenance schedule to have your system running efficiently and help prevent such a recurrence.

At Air Max HVAC, we have a certified, fully trained, and knowledgeable staff that is ready to meet all of your heating and cooling needs. This means that we can not only provide heating and cooling maintenance services but also installations and repairs. Our team is also up to date on the latest in industry technology. This is helpful if you are interested in what is new to the market that could make your life more convenient and comfortable while also saving you money by being more efficient. If you are ready to see what Air Max HVAC can do for your home, give us a call or set up an online appointment today.

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