Heater smells like it's burning

Heater Smells Like It’s Burning? Here’s What to Do

When a heater smells like it’s burning, this can cause great concern for many homeowners. After all, most burning smells at home usually indicate a sign of danger. 

In the context of central heat, though, is that always the case? When talking about indoor airflow, the reasons for a burning smell can vary from harmless to hazardous. 

Let’s cover some of the reasons why your home heater is emitting a burning smell and what you should do in those situations. 

Dusty Furnace

In the United States, many residents of southern states do not use their home furnaces often. Whether in the basement or the attic, the furnace and air ducts can accumulate dust. The same can go for people living in areas where the temperature varies between seasons and may not require central heating for months at a time. 

If a large gap of time has passed between now and the last time you turned on your central heat, this can cause the dust in these areas to burn off. In the large majority of instances, this is not a cause for concern. The burning smell from the heater should dissipate within a short while. 

If your heater smells like it’s burning after not being used for a long time, wait about five minutes to see if the smell disappears. Should it linger after that, it could indicate a more concerning problem that would require an HVAC or furnace repair specialist. 

Trapped Debris in Central Heat System 

Sometimes miscellaneous plastic or rubber objects will fall into vents or deeper in the air ducts Whether it’s a misplaced child’s toy, part of the HVAC system, or another item, this can cause a burning smell. 

When you first notice a burning smell from your heater, you should try to find the exact vent the smell is coming from. If it is only coming from one part of the home and not covering the entire structure, it could mean that there is something in the vent. Look inside the vent and check for any debris or objects. 

If you can safely do so, remove the vent cover, extract the object, and resecure the vent cover. If the debris appears part of the furnace or HVAC system, call your local furnace repair specialist to ask if it should be replaced. 

Filter Replacement Needed

Sometimes, an old air filter can cause the furnace to overcompensate in order to push more air through. Check your vent filters and see if they are clogged with dust and/or debris. If you do not have a new one at home, you should be able to find a replacement filter for most systems at your local hardware store. 

Furnace Repair Needed

A burning smell could also come from furnace dysfunction or structural damage to the unit. Depending on the extent of this issue, it could potentially become a fire hazard that requires immediate attention. 

If you notice a burning smell and cannot pinpoint the source on your own, it could mean the furnace needs repairing. In this case, call an HVAC specialist as soon as you are able to and schedule an appointment for them to come and analyze your furnace. 

Burning Smells Non-Central Heat Sources 

Space Heaters

Space heaters are portable plug-in heaters that can cause fire hazards if near other heat sources, fabrics, or thick carpeting. When using a space heater, try to place it on top of a hard surface and away from any cloth objects. 

If a space heater emits a burning smell, could indicate a malfunction that could result in it catching fire. If the system is not sparking or indicating other immediate signs of danger, unplug the heater and plan to purchase a replacement unit. 

If it is emitting sparks or other visible electrical discharge, turn off the power in that part of the house before removing the plug from the outlet. Do not touch the plug without any insulating hand covering like rubber gloves. 

Baseboard Heat

Baseboard heaters are a popular alternative to a furnace in many smaller living spaces like apartments, condominiums, and small houses. Though they differ from a central heating system in the way they provide heat to the living space, a burning smell from a baseboard configuration may share some similar causes. 

A burning smell from a baseboard heater can result from dust and debris or may indicate an electrical issue. Similar to a central system, if the odor does not dissipate within a few minutes and no visible debris is impacting its airflow, you should contact an HVAC technician immediately for a deeper investigation. 

Radiator Heat

By new construction standards, radiator heat is largely considered an outdated solution compared to baseboards and central heating systems. However, many older homes still do use radiators. 

Like baseboards and central, a burning smell from radiators could indicate the presence of dust or debris. With radiators, though, this could also indicate the presence of mold on the system or a corrosive substance called hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide can damage the metal and will emit an odor that smells like eggs. If you notice this smell, you should contact an HVAC technician immediately to prevent damage to your system. 

Heater Still Smells Like It’s Burning? Let Us Help 

At Advanced Heating & Cooling, we strive to help homeowners live comfortably and aid landlords in providing excellent indoor air quality to their residents. Heating system issues should not be ignored, and our technicians can work with you to resolve them. 

If your heater still smells like it’s burning and you need assistance, contact us anytime to arrange an appointment with one of our technicians.


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