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8 Reasons There's a Burning Smell From Your Heater

If you’re smelling any type of burning odor from your heater, that signals an immediate reason for concern. While heaters are designed to heat up and warm your home, burning smells are a sign that something is operating incorrectly.

Identifying the source of the burning smell is necessary to determine how to resolve the issue.

Here are 8 common causes of a burning smell from the heater as well as potential solutions to the problem to help keep you and your home safe.

1. Burning Rubber or Plastic

A well-working heater should never emit smells like burning plastic or rubber, so if you notice that your heat smells like burning plastic, you know there’s a problem. If the turned on heater smells like burning plastic, the most likely thing is that some type of object has fallen into your heating unit and is sending fumes through the rest of your home.

Shut off your HVAC system and see if any of your children’s toys have gotten lodged nearby. If a visual inspection doesn’t identify the problem and your heater smells like burning plastic still, have a HVAC professional complete a more thorough inspection.

2. Oil or Smoke

If you have an oil furnace and are constantly thinking, “My heater smells like burning oil or smoke,” then check to see when the last time your oil filter was changed. Going too long without changing your oil filter can cause a lot of nasty buildup, resulting in burning oil or even smoke.

Once you change out your oil filter, run your heater like normal. If the smell continues, turn off your unit and have your HVAC technician come inspect the problem. Don’t continue using your heater if you smell burning oil or smoke since it could be a fire hazard.

3. Musty Smell

Sometimes a turned on heater smells like burning plastic or oil, and other times it smells like a wet basement: dirty, musty, and gross. If this is the case, it’s likely that dust and dirt particles have collected in your air ducts and encountered some type of moisture, leading to mustiness and even mold growth.

In a situation like this, you will need to get your ducts cleaned to remove any trapped mold, mildew, dirt, and moisture. While you can clean your own air vents and air ducts, you can also have a HVAC team handle the project for you.

4. Electrical Burning

Most heaters are designed to power down when they overheat, but if that feature in your heater is broken, you could end up with a burning smell from the heater that’s more electrically based.

If your electrical furnace is overheating, it’s at risk of an electrical fire so have an HVAC specialist examine your unit thoroughly if you smell electrical burning coming from your vents. 

5. Clogged Air Filter

If it’s been a while since you’ve changed your air filter and you’re smelling burning odors coming from your heater, it’s possible your unit is overheating due to being overworked.

Always change your air filter to help keep your unit from clogging up, prevent dirt and dust layers from building up, and to allow your unit to run smoothly.

6. Smell of Gunpowder

If your unit’s fan motor or circuit board overheats, it may give off a smell like gunpowder. In this case, shut off your unit so as not to cause further damage and have a trusted professional inspect your unit. Don’t attempt any DIY fixes on the internal portions of your unit since you could end up causing more damage. 

7. Sulfur or Rotten Eggs

If you find your heater smells like sulfur or rotten eggs, immediately shut off your gas furnace and call your HVAC company to inspect your unit. Sulfur and rotten egg smells coming from your furnace indicate a gas leak which needs to be taken incredibly seriously.

Don’t attempt a DIY fix on a gas leak without the skills and experience necessary to handle the issue. 

8. Burning Dust

If you’re getting a burning smell from the heater but it’s the first time you’ve turned on your heater in months, that smell could just be the dust settled in your heater burning off.

After months of not getting used, heaters can accumulate a layer of dust that burns off and produces a burning smell.

If the smell doesn’t dissipate after thirty minutes or less, contact your HVAC technician to be sure that the burning smell from the heater isn’t anything to worry about.

Is it Dangerous if There’s a Burning Smell From Your Heater?

In most cases, a burning smell coming from your heater doesn’t indicate imminent danger to you, your home, or your family.

However, it’s incredibly important to address all burning smells since they indicate a potentially serious problem. Leaving your heater running when you smell burning smells could end up causing more harm to your system and put your home at risk of a fire.

Always address it if your heater smells like burning materials and call in a professional HVAC team.

Call John C. Flood for Heating Repair Services

If you keep finding that your heater smells like it’s burning something but you can’t identify or seem to resolve the issue, John C. Flood’s team of licensed HVAC technicians can help you.

Our team of heating repair pros can diagnose and fix a burning smell coming from your heater in no time.