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Why is there a burning smell when you turn on your heat?

As winter finally settles over DFW with some temperatures *gasp* down in the FORTIES, North Texans have begun to turn on their furnaces for the first time this year. And of course as we all flip the switch from “cool” to “heat” we’re always greeted by that familiar smell of burning as the furnace turns on. But what is that smell? 

As your furnace lies dormant (which, in Texas, it does from about February to Thanksgiving) it collects dust and dirt particles like everything else in your house. So when your furnace starts to get hot again, one of the first things that happens is that dust and dirt begins to burn off. So this smell is completely normal, and to be expected when turning on your furnace. But if it persists for more than an hour, that could be a sign that you need your system inspected. Your air filter may be due for a replacement.

Here are some other furnace smells to be aware of:

Sulfur or Rotten Eggs

This is the first and most DANGEROUS smell to be aware of. The smell of rotten eggs could mean that your house has a gas leak. If you smell this, be sure to vacate the premises immediately. Then call the gas company to let a professional come and take a look.

Metallic or Plastic Burning Smell

If this smell is coming from the furnace, it could mean a number of different things. Your motor or one of your bearings may be wearing out, or your wiring might be faulty. Be sure to find out exactly where the smell is coming from. Another cause of this smell could be a piece of plastic or other object stuck in or around your vents. They are melting from the heat.

Moldy or Musty Smell

This could be a number of things, any of which will likely require a visit from an HVAC specialist. It could mean that your air filter needs to be replaced, or that there is mold or bacteria growing in your HVAC system. Either way, it’s best to call a specialist who can replace any parts or clean any components to get your house back to a bearable smell.

HVAC Professional Maintenance

Of course, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Even if you don’t smell anything out of the ordinary, scheduling an annual checkup with an HVAC professional is the best way to ensure that your furnace is running properly. This can keep your family warm through all 2 months of Dallas winter.