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Why Does My Heater Smell Like It’s Burning?

man covering his nose from burning smell from heater

As we approach the winter months, we turn on our furnace or heater for our homes for the first time in months. Oftentimes, there is a burning smell associated with turning on the heater for the first couple of times. You might wonder why this happens and if this is normal.

The answer is yes, this is common every year and it is normal. However, it is preventable and a sign your HVAC system needs a service. Let’s take a look.

Dirty Air Handler Filter
Dirty Air Handler Filter

Why Your Heater Smells Like It’s Burning

Throughout the summer months, you might have your A/C system cranked up. During this time, a lot of dust gets blown through the HVAC system and collects on your filter.

However, dust may collect past your filter if your filter is not properly maintained. Your filter should be the right size, of good quality, and replaced frequently. If not, this can lead to dust collection on your evaporator coils.

By the time winter hits, if dust collects on your evaporator coils, dust can burn off once you turn on your heater for the first time. This is quite common, however, it’s a sign your HVAC system was not properly maintained.

Dust on Evaporator Coils
Dust on Evaporator Coils

Effects of Dust Collection

While dust collection on evaporator coils may not seem like such a bad thing if it is burned off every year, it can actually have a lot of effects on your HVAC system overall.

For example, a thin layer of dust on your blower fan, which can be caused by dust getting through the evaporator coils, can significantly reduce the efficiency of your HVAC system. It could even cause your unit to freeze up.

Moreover, dust can contain mold and other harmful contaminants that should have been removed from the air.

Overall, improper HVAC maintenance can lead to many issues and reduce the life of your HVAC system.

Other Smells

If your HVAC system produces any of the other smells, you should stop your heater and call a technician.

Plastic Burning – HVAC belts or other components may be burning in your system.

Electrical Burning – Electrical components could be burning.

The smell of Gas – Consider calling your utility company as well and turning off the gas to your home.

HVAC Maintenance

We recommend servicing your HVAC system twice a year, once before summer, and once before winter. During this time, your technician will ensure your evaporator coils are clean so when you do turn on your heat, there is no smell.

Also, we recommend replacing your filter every 30-90 days depending on the activity level in your home. If you have pets and children, consider replacing your filter more often.

Lastly, we recommend pouring vinegar down your condensation line every 30-90 days, again depending on the activity level in your home.

Final Thoughts

If your heater smells like it is burning, the most likely cause is the dust is being burned off. While it is not an immediate concern and is quite common, it is preventable and it is a sign your system has not been properly maintained.