When the weather turns colder, many of us start to use our furnaces for the first time in months. Flicking the heat back on may bring immediate relief from the cold temperatures outside, but what if there is an accompanying burning odor? In this article, we will explain the possible causes and how you can fix this problem.

The Dangers of Fire

The first thing that you need to establish is that your home is not on fire, and there isn’t an immediate danger. Turn the furnace off and take a look around your home to make sure that it’s safe to stay in the property. If you can see any flames or smoke, get your family out of the home and call 911 immediately. But, if you can’t see any cause of the burning smell, you can spend some time investigating the possible causes of the odor.

2 Common Furnace Burning Odor Sources

If you can smell a burning odor and you cannot find a fire in your home, the most common culprit is the furnace itself. There are two main reasons why this might occur. Let’s take a look at them in more detail:

  1. A Dirty Air Filter

If you cannot remember the last time you changed the air filter in your furnace it’s time to change it now. The furnace relies on a steady supply of clean air, and if the filter is clogged, it can cause a number of issues. When the airflow is impeded, it can cause the system to overwork, and overheating motors will generate a burning odor. A furnace filter should be changed approximately every three months, and you may want to change it more often if you have pets in the home.

The air in your home passes through the air filter multiple times each day. The filter is designed to trap particulates in the air, including dust, pollen, pet dander, and more. Gradually, the surface of the filter will become clogged with these particulates, and the air can’t pass through easily. The fan still has to pull air through the system, and when it works harder, that is when it starts to overheat.

Changing the air filter in your furnace is easy, and the full instructions should be detailed in your owner’s manual. If you’ve misplaced the manual, look for a free pdf copy online, and keep it safe. Once you’ve replaced the air filter, you should notice that the burning odor dissipates. As an added bonus, a clean air filter will boost the energy efficiency and improve your indoor air quality (IAQ).

  1. Dust Particles

If you’ve ever brought out stuff stored in less used parts of your home, it’s likely that the surface was covered with dust particles. This occurs in and on your furnace when it’s not in regular use during the warmer parts of the year. So, when you turn on the furnace for the first time, you may smell burning as the dust is burnt away.

This odor will permeate throughout the entire home because the affected air is traveling through the ductwork to each room. In many cases, this only lasts for a few minutes because the dust is burned away pretty quickly. You can get rid of the smell faster if you open up all the windows and turn on any ceiling fans in your home.

3 Ways to Prevent Burning Odors from Your Furnace

If you have not turned on your furnace for the colder weather yet, there are three things that you can do to prevent or mitigate the burning smells, they are:

  1. Annual Furnace Maintenance

The best way to avoid a burning odor and get your furnace ready for the colder months ahead is to schedule a regular annual maintenance. A local HVAC specialist can test, check, and maintain your furnace to ensure that it’s safe to use. This is also a great way to ensure that the system is working effectively and efficiently. When equipment is well maintained, it’s less likely to fail when you need it most on a cold day. The best time to get your furnace inspected is before the heating season begins, but it’s never too late. The HVAC technician will clean the dust out of the furnace, replace the air filter, and check other components to ensure that your furnace is working as the manufacturer intended.

  1. Regular Furnace Air Filter Changes

It’s easy to forget about the furnace during the warmer summer months. But, as we’ve shown above, it’s extremely important to keep the air filter clear. Installing a new air filter will increase the airflow to prevent the equipment from overworking. This is also a great way to boost the energy efficiency of your entire heating system. When your heating equipment isn’t under strain, it will consume less energy during normal operations. Make an air filter change a regular habit by setting a reminder on a calendar or your favorite mobile device. If you have a smart system, it will even send you a reminder when it’s time to replace the air filter!

  1. Turn On Fans and Open the Windows

Instead of waiting for a burning odor, you could turn on your ceiling fans and open the windows in advance. This will improve the air circulation and dissipate any burning odor much faster. Obviously, if it’s cold outside, you may not want to do this, but it only takes a few minutes to get rid of the odor if you follow this advice.

The Benefits of Preventative Furnace Maintenance

We’ve already mentioned the benefits of a regular annual inspection and maintenance for your furnace. But, it’s worth repeating that this is essential if you want to maximize your home comfort and safety. The NFPA has named domestic heating systems as one of the primary causes of house fires for a good reason. A crack in the heat exchanger can release poisonous carbon monoxide gas and cause a house fire. These cracks only open during heating, and in many cases, they cannot be seen when the furnace is cold.

Contact your local HVAC specialist and schedule some essential maintenance for your furnace today.