Man smells burning furnace

“Every winter my furnace smells like it’s burning.”

A burning furnace smell is a common complaint from customers as we roll into cooler weather.  What causes this odor, and what can be done to reduce it?  Our service manager, Corey, gives us the inside scoop.

“During the summer months when your furnace is not being used, dust and organic debris collect on the heat exchanger and blower motor.  When you first engage your system, that dust burns off, which is what you smell,” explains Corey. “The smell should be gone in the first couple of days of use.”

During the winter months, dust is burned off during daily use, so there is never enough to cause the odor.  There is no danger to the homeowner from this seasonal nuisance.  Now, what can we do to reduce the impact of the odor?

You can first turn on your system for the season in the morning before you leave for work which will have the strongest odor occur while you are not home.  This does mean that if the system isn’t working, you won’t notice until you return from work, so you probably don’t want to do that on the first really cold day or you might experience a chilly night.

You can also turn your system on for the first time on a mild day so that you can open windows to air out the odor.  The downside to this is that this is prime ragweed season, so if your family suffers from allergies, it may be worse to open windows than it is to tolerate the odor.

What if the scent continues more than a couple of days?

Have you used it consistently since turning it on for the season?  With local Washington DC metro area weather, sometimes we have to turn the heat on for the season 3 times.  We think it’s gotten cold, then we get a week of 80°, then it drops to 55-60°for a week, then back to 75° before settling into a consistent cool pattern.  If you have turned it on, then off, then on again, allow that day or two before becoming alarmed.

Sometimes a dirty filter can cause the problem. The dirt and dust caught in the filter will begin to slip through tiny gaps when the filter ceases to be the easiest place for air to travel.  This will result in dust continually being added to the system. If the unit is starved of air because of a dirty filter, the blower motor will have to work harder and might overheat.

If the odor persists after a filter change, it’s time to contact Climate to come out and make sure there isn’t a larger problem with your heating system.

Contact us for your Seasonal Heat Assessment.  We serve Northern Virginia (Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria, Woodbridge, Vienna, Springfield, Burke, etc.), Washington, DC, and Suburban Maryland (Rockville, Potomac, Silver Spring, Laurel, College Park, etc.)  Our technicians will evaluate and test 32 different components for proper functioning and give you a completed report card on your system’s performance.  Call us at 703-750-4008.