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Burning Smells from Your Furnace: What They May Mean

We’re at the point of the year when furnaces are going to start coming on in homes all around Raleigh, putting in their first full day of work since the early spring. Furnaces that received a timely inspection and tune-up from a professional should be off to a good start.

But wait… is that burning you smell from the vents when your furnace starts running? Is something already broken? Is it an emergency? Should you call for help right away?

It likely isn’t a serious issue

Take a deep breath: there probably isn’t anything major wrong with your furnace. These acrid smells coming from the vents are a normal occurrence when furnaces come on after a long summer “hibernation.” The odor is dust being burnt off the heat exchanger (in a gas furnace) or the electric heating elements (in an electric furnace). Dust often gathers on these components over the summer, and as the heat first comes on, it burns away the dust accumulation. The smell should go away within an hour.

What if the odor continues?

If you still smell the burning odor, go check on the furnace filter. It may be clogged with dirt and debris. This can allow dust and dirt to get around its edges, and the burners or heating elements will then burn them up and create the acrid odor. A clogged filter can also cause the furnace to overheat.

Another possibility is that the burning smell indicates a mechanical malfunction in the blower motor. If the odor has a distinctive electrical fire smell to it, it might mean that the wires in the blower motor are fusing, causing a burn-out. Overstrained motors with low lubrication can also create these burning smells. These are repair issues that require a technician to fix. If the burning smell doesn’t go away after changing the filter, then shut the furnace down and put in a call to our furnace repair experts.

Comfort Master Heating & Air Conditioning, Inc. is here for you 24/7 in Raleigh, NC.

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