One of the most common calls a heater repair specialist receives is when someone smells burning coming from their heating system or heat pump. This is obviously very concerning, and it's always wise to pay attention if something seems to be burning in your home.
However, as it turns out, there are several reasons that a heating system might have a burning smell. Some mean you'll need to call in a heater or heat pump repair crew, but not always. In this article, we'll break down the possible reasons.
Why You Smell Burning from Your Heating System
1. It's the first heating of the year
Let's start with the best-case scenario: you smell something burning shortly after firing up your heater for the first time in the autumn. In this case, there is probably nothing wrong. Several months of disuse will cause dust to settle on the heater and in the nearby ducts, which then burns off as the system heats up.
The smell should go away within an hour or two. If so, there's nothing to worry about. Although you could avoid the issue by having your furnace or heat pump inspected by pros, before starting it up.
2. Dirt and clutter in the vents
Aside from dust building up in your vents, there's all sorts of gunk that can build up in there over time. It could be dirt, fluff, pest droppings, insects, and more. If these are close to the heater, they'll begin to smolder or burn away.
Much like with dust, if the smell goes quickly, it isn't anything to worry about. If the smell persists, or you can actually see any smoke, that's a problem! You'll want to shut off the heater and call for a duct cleaning service to clear out the junk.
3. Air filter issues
When was the last time you cleaned or replaced the air filter in your heater? If it's been more than a couple months, that's a likely cause of burning smells or similar problems. The air filter is necessary for keeping dirt and dust from constantly circulating through the HVAC system, but it will clog up over time. If it gets too clogged, the materials on it may begin to smolder. You'll also see other problems, such as reduced airflow.
Your filter should be checked every month or two and kept clear so the air can flow properly.
4. Mechanical or electrical problems
The worst-case scenario is if there's something wrong inside the heater, causing overheating or burning. You'll know this is the case if the burning smell is strongest near the heater itself, or if you hear any odd sounds like metal clanking or any kind of electrical spark.
If you suspect your heater has internal problems, shut it down immediately and call for heater repair! It could become a real fire hazard.
In short: if you smell burning from your heater and it hangs around for more than an hour or so, there's probably a real problem. Should this happen, call in heater or heat pump repair ASAP!