Should your home’s heating or air smell like something’s burning? It’s a weird, maybe even troubling, thing to smell inside your house. Sometimes, though, it’s no problem at all. Sometimes, it’s a signal of a problem. How do you know which is which?
For example, when you turn on the heat for the first time in a long time, you might smell something like burnt dirt or dust. This is normal. It’s expected some dirt might be in the unit or parts and if it goes away in a few minutes, it’s fine. Other burning smells, such as electrical, chemical or smoke can be real problems or dangers in your HVAC system.
Strange Smells from Your Heat
Smells from your heater can originate from a variety of sources. It could be dust or mold within your system, an obstructed air vent or an electric malfunction. Right here are some possible sources of a burning smell.
- Burning Dust Scent
If you get a burning scent from your heating unit when you’ve switched it on for the first time of the fall or winter, it’s probably no big deal. If months have passed since it was on, dust and dirt might collect on the heaters, heat exchangers, ducts and other elements. When you turn the heater on, this stuff burns off. If you smell some dust, don’t worry. Once the dust and debris have burned off, the smell leaves.
If this odor remains around or gets stronger, check the air filter. If the filter is fine, or you’ve changed the filter, and you’re still getting a burning smell, turn the system off and contact an HVAC expert for service.
- Electric Burning Smell
If there is an electric burning smell from your heating system, this could be harmless or something extremely severe.
In some cases, this odor can originate from an object stuck in the ductwork, which will begin to smell as it heats up.
In other situations, an electric burning scent can be because of a serious electric issue. If you’ve been outside during an electrical storm, you’ve probably smelled ozone, a smell similar to chlorine. Your heating system may generate a comparable odor if it gets too hot. As your heating unit ages, a worn bearing might make the electric motor bind or slow. It might then draw added electricity to run, and that added voltage could cause a build-up of heat. This heat can lead to problems like wearing the insulation, melting cords, generating sparks or shorting out the unit.
If you’re smelling an electric odor, turn the heat off and contact a professional.
- Smoke Odor
If you smell smoke coming from your heating system, turn it off immediately. This smell may be coming from the exhaust vent or flue pipe being obstructed. The system’s exhaust needs to go somewhere. If it can’t, it will create this odor and maybe damage the system along with being a safety issue.
With a smoke smell, you need to contact a professional to inspect it. If the smell is bad inside your home, it’s best to evacuate the house until an HVAC technician arrives and can help.
Other Possible Heating System Issues
- Dirty, Clogged Filters
A system’s air filters should be changed every 1-2 months. Clean filters keep the air in your home clean. They keep dirt, hair, pollen, pet dander and other pollutants in check. If your air filter is clogged, these impurities get sucked into the blower and into what you breathe. The system can overheat, too. This can cause a burning odor and other repairs or problems.
- Dirty Ducts
As the weather changes in the spring or the fall, all sorts of material can wind up in your HVAC ducts. There’s pollen, dirt, leaves, pine needles, grass, animal hair, moisture, mold, bugs and lots of even stranger stories are out there. Occasionally, you smell something burning in your vents. It could be debris is in your ductwork. A good duct and system cleaning by professional experts should solve the problem.
- Smell of Chemicals
If you smell chemicals with your heat on, this is definitely not something to ignore. If the odor has a distinctive chemical smell comparable to formaldehyde, this is a likely sign the heat exchanger is broken. The heat exchanger works by cycling heat from the combustion chamber right to the plenum, and if this component is failing, the risk of fire increases drastically. Carbon monoxide gas fumes might also be released, which have no smell or color. This is a major reason to have carbon monoxide detectors in your house.
If you smell chemicals, turn the heater off right away, open some windows and contact a professional immediately.
What Air Conditioning Smells Might Mean
- An Overheating AC
Examine your air conditioning system. Is your a/c in “cooling down” mode? This could mean an issue in your air conditioning system. Turn it off immediately and reach out to a technician to check it. Here’s what could be happening in your air conditioning system.
- Motor Failure
Sometimes, your electric motor in your air conditioning unit can break. When your electric motor wears it will strain and sometimes overheat. This can indicate a component of the motor is melting and will certainly smell like something burning. A specialist can look for concerns throughout the entire system.
- Motor Ball Bearings Breaking
Throughout the years, your motor bearings can become worn and also break down. This places added stress on your motor as well as can result in your air conditioning unit’s electric motor getting too hot. This can cause a burning odor.
At South End Heating and Air we specialize in HVAC and furnace repair, call us for a free consult. We’ll evaluate your system and help make recommendations for optimum value. After all, we want to keep you cool all summer long and warm in the winter. Just schedule a visit with one of our technicians to talk about how we can help with your heating needs. Would you like to learn more options our techs can help you with? Give us a call 704-684-5339.