When you turn on your heating system, you don't expect it to emit a burning smell. However, burning smells aren't an uncommon problem with heating systems. In some cases, they aren't really serious. However, there are other times when it could indicate a problem that needs immediate attention. Here are some common reasons for a burning smell in your heating system and what you should do about them.
If you haven't used your heating system for a long time, then dust has likely accumulated in the vents and on the heating elements. The dust can cause a burning smell when you first turn on your heating system in the fall or winter. You may also see a light puff of dust coming out of the vents at the same time. Usually, the smell is only temporary and should go away shortly.
Objects Blocking The Heater
A rug or piece of furniture on top of a floor register could cause a burning smell, especially after the heater has been on for a while. In that case, check your vents and remove the blockage. Make sure furniture and rugs are kept well away from vents. If you smell something like plastic burning coming from one of your vents, it could mean something has fallen inside it. If you can't remove the problematic item, then turn off the heat and call a professional.
An overheated blower can give off a burning electrical and plastic smell. Unlike an object stuck in a single vent, this smell will emanate from all of your vents. You may even see smoke if it gets bad enough. An overheated blower also makes unusual noises. This problem is very serious and could be a fire hazard. Turn off the heating system immediately until you have it repaired.
Oil Burning Furnace Problems
Oil burning furnaces sometimes give off strange smells, especially if you don't change the oil filter often enough. Changing the filter should be enough to stop many of these smells if your furnace is working well in other aspects. However, you may smell burning smells if you have a leak or misalignment. Leaks could become fire hazards if ignored. If you smell oil smoke, or you see oil leaks, do not use your furnace until a technician examines it.
Many burning smells are preventable with regular heating system maintenance. However, even with regular maintenance, sometimes heating systems fail and need repair. If you smell something burning from your heater, and you know it's not just dust, then turn off your heating system and call for heating repair.