Did you notice an odd smell when you turned on the furnace? Perhaps it smelled like burning plastic, or like an electrical burning smell. Either way, the smell may have triggered fears of a fire, or your furnace “biting the dust.”
When you notice an odd smell when you turn on the heat, it could be something minor, but it can also be something more serious, such as a broken electrical component – so the message here is don’t ignore it.
If your house suddenly smells like burning plastic, rubber, or electrical parts when the heat kicks on, it could be big as simple as dust and a dirty air filter, but it could be something bigger. Let’s take a look at the possible culprits.
Possible Causes of the Foul Smell
If you haven’t used your furnace all season, dust could have collected in the air ducts and on the heat exchanger. In this case, when you turn on the furnace after it’s been off for a long time, the dust basically burns off and that releases an unpleasant odor.
If dust is burning off, it’s perfectly normal. If this is the first time you turned on the heater in months, there is no cause for concern. However, if the smell does not go away, you’ll want to check your air filter; it may be time to change it.
Electrical or Plastic Burning Smells
If you’ve been running your furnace and all of a sudden it creates an electrical or plastic burning smell, the problem could be minor or it could be serious. For example, if a foreign object gets in the ductwork, the object can emit a foul odor when it gets hot.
Or, it could be a more serious problem. For instance, the heat exchanger can be cracked or the furnace motor can be overheated. If you are not able to locate a foreign object in the ductwork, your next step is to call an HVAC specialist to inspect the electrical components in the furnace.
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