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Furnaces, Pricing Guide

Burning Smell in House? Causes and How to Fix It

If the phrase, “burning smell in house” gets your attention, you are not alone. As a homeowner, it can be disconcerting. But here’s the good news – a burning smell in your house isn’t always a sign of trouble. It's actually a fairly common occurrence with heating and cooling systems, and not necessarily cause for alarm. Here’s why: During the summer months, dust settles on furnace components like the burner or heat exchanger. When you first turn on your heating system at the beginning of winter, those components heat up quickly and can cause a burning smell from your heat registers as the dust burns off.

A carrier dealer investigating burning smell in house.

Of course, any time you smell something burning in your home, it’s important to take the time to locate the source. The experts at Carrier understand your concerns and have created this page to define several common smells, what causes them, and how they can be resolved. Once you’ve investigated the burning smell and if you suspect a malfunction with your comfort system, don’t hesitate to find a Carrier dealer and set up an appointment. Your local dealer can inspect your current system and offer information on new Carrier furnaces to update your comfort.

Types of Burning Furnace Smells

Burning smells can have different characteristics based on their source. Burning dust or lint, melting or burning plastic, and electrical burning smells are distinctly different. So, when you notice a burning smell in your home, make a mental note of what type of smell it is. Is it the smell of burning dust coming from your air ducts or vents? Or, is it more of a burning plastic or electrical odor? Is it something else? Also, make note of where it is coming from.

If a dusty, burning furnace smell seems to be coming from your heat registers, and the smell continues for more than an hour, it’s time to check your furnace. Dirty air filters are often a source of heavy dust buildup, so inspect the filter and replace it if necessary. Filter inspections should be done every 30 – 90 days regardless, and doing so may proactively help eliminate the issue. Finally, if the smell just isn’t going away, it’s time to call a Carrier HVAC professional for help.

Plastic Burning Smell in House

A plastic burning smell in house situation can occur from a number of sources. Faulty wiring or an overheated appliance can have an odor that smells like burning plastic. If it’s coming from your HVAC system, it could be from an overheated blower motor -- possibly due to heavy dust buildup or a clogged air filter.

What to Do if the Heat Smells Like Burning Plastic

If you turn on your furnace and the heat smells like burning plastic, you should suspect it’s more than just dust burning off the heat exchanger. Follow your nose to identify the source of the smell. If it’s your furnace, shut off the power and contact an HVAC technician to have it inspected. While you are waiting, if the smell persists, turn on exhaust fans or crack some windows for ventilation. Plastic and other materials can emit fumes that are not just unpleasant, they can be toxic.

Electrical Burning Smell in House

Electrical burning smell in house issues can be caused by appliances such as a refrigerator, toaster oven or clothes dryer. Unplug the suspected appliance ASAP. If necessary, cut off the power at the circuit breaker. If the smell is coming from your furnace, this could indicate electrical problems with your furnace such as an overheated blower.

In this case, it is highly recommended to stop using the furnace until a Carrier HVAC technician can inspect the system. Continuing to run a faulty furnace can result in more widespread damage to critical components such as the heat exchanger.

Other Burning Smells

Other smells that may come from your furnace include an oily smell, rotten eggs, or a moldy/musty smell. If you have an oil furnace, that oily smell could indicate an oil leak, burner issues or even a heat exchanger failure. A rotten egg smell likely indicates a potential gas leak which needs to be addressed immediately. A musty/moldy smell could indicate mold or mildew growth in your ductwork or in your furnace-mounted cooling coil (evaporator coil).

How to Prevent Burning Furnace Smell

burning furnace smell

The best ways to avoid experiencing a burning furnace smell include following a routine cleaning and maintenance schedule per your furnace manufacturer’s recommendations. One of the easiest furnace maintenance tasks you can perform yourself is checking and/or replacing your furnace air filter every 30 – 90 days. Cleaning a furnace regularly will help it operate more efficiently, last longer, and help improve overall indoor air quality. You can also remove your floor vents and check for dirt buildup and foreign objects in your ductwork. You can vacuum the dirty ductwork, but for a more thorough cleaning, hire a professional duct cleaning service.

When to Call a Professional

It’s never a bad idea to contact a professional HVAC technician to investigate a burning smell or other strange odors from your heating system. While there are some instances where a burning smell might be normal, any time the odor lingers or cannot be quickly identified, be ready to find a Carrier dealer for a potential heating repair. In some cases, getting on top of the issue quickly can help avoid a bigger and more expensive issue down the road.

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