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What's that smell? Understand the different smells coming from your furnace...

Posted by michaelmaj on October 21, 2019 at 9:45 AM

If you notice an odd burning smell when the heat turns on, it may be a sign that your furnace needs maintenance. It could be something as minor as a dirty filter, but it could also be a serious problem like a broken electrical component in the furnace. Don’t ignore it. Try to find the source of the odor to avoid costly repairs in the future.




Here are some tips to get you started:


  • What causes the smell of burning dust?  When your furnace is not used for long periods of time, dust can collect on the heat exchanger and in the air ducts. When the furnace is turned on, the dust burns off and releases an odor.  It is normal for dust to burn off when the heater is turned on for the first time in the winter season and not a cause for concern. This smell should disappear in a few hours. If the problem persists, check your air filters.

  • What causes musty odors? When you turn on your furnace for the first time each year, it may smell like a damp basement or like dirt or dust. The musty odor comes from dust and dirt collecting in the air ducts, which gets blown throughout your home when the furnace turns on. If this smell persists throughout the heating season, it could mean you need to change the air filter.  A musty smell could also indicate that mold is trapped on the furnace filter, A/C coil, or on the humidifier panel if you have one.

  • How to get rid of musty odor smells in the heater?  Inspect the filter once a year and replace or clean as needed. If the humidifier panel is moldy, replace it. If the filter and humidifier panel are ok, your A/C coil could be the culprit. You'll need to schedule with a professional if this is the case.

  • What causes an electrical burning smell?  If you notice an odor that smells like burning plastic or burning electrical parts, it could be something simple or something more serious.  A foreign object in your HVAC system’s ductwork could start to smell once it gets overheated. This could be a child’s dropped toy, or an unnoticed spill. Remove your registers and visually inspect them to clean or remove any objects that don’t belong.  It could also be something more serious, such as an overheated furnace motor or a burned internal piece. If you cannot locate a foreign object in the ductwork, call an experienced technician to check the electrical components in the furnace.

  • What causes the smell of smoke or oil?  If you operate an oil furnace, and smell oil or smoke, it could mean a serious problem with your furnace. If the smell persists after checking and changing the oil filter, call an schedule an appointment to get it checked out.


Everybody's furnace is going to put off a smell when first being used for the season.  Many systems are safe as they are; however, recognizing what exactly you are smelling is important.  If you are unsure about what causes the smell, be safe and call a professional to check it out!



Call True Blue Air Services today and schedule your fall maintenance!
940-648-1900

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