When winter arrives in Omaha, NE, you’ll need your furnace to maintain a warm and comfortable home. No matter whether you have a gas furnace or an electric one, a burning smell coming from your heating system may be a cause for alarm. A burning odor from your furnace may be normal under certain circumstances, but in other cases, it’s a sign of an urgent problem that requires a prompt repair. Knowing the difference will help you keep your family and your home safe and sound throughout the winter season.

1. Dirty Air Filter

The most common cause of a burning smell from your furnace is a dirty air filter. Dust, lint, fur, hair and other debris clog the pores of the filter. When the air handler forces the heated air through the filter, the debris gets hot. It may get hot enough to burn, which causes the odor. Be sure to check your furnace filter once a month. Don’t wait more than three months between furnace filter changes. If you’re not sure where your furnace filter is located, the furnace’s owner’s manual will have a diagram. You can also ask your service technician to show you the filter’s location during your annual furnace tune-up.

2. Incomplete Combustion

In a gas furnace, the burner’s flame must be consistent. The burner also requires a constant supply of fresh air to maintain the combustion process. A consistent flow of gas is also required for the combustion process. Any problem with the gas supply valve, burner, pilot, ignition or airflow may cause incomplete combustion of the gas. Incomplete combustion creates soot and ash. The heat from the burner ignites these particles, which may release a burning odor. Problems with the combustion process require prompt repairs.

3. Debris in the Combustion Chamber

After six or more months of disuse, your furnace’s combustion chamber may have a layer of dust and other particles. These particles build up on the burner and heat exchanger. When the first heating cycle takes place, the dust and dirt will burn off, releasing a faint burning odor. If this smell persists for more than a few heating cycles, call for service. The furnace’s combustion chamber seal may be damaged and in need of a repair or replacement.

4. Dirty Ductwork

Even when your furnace or air conditioner isn’t in use, some dust can get into the ducts. This often happens during the autumn months of the year when you’re not using the heating or cooling system. The first time you turn on your furnace for the winter season, this dust will get hot and burn off. If the burning odor persists after several cycles of your furnace, call a technician to schedule an inspection. Your furnace’s interior parts or the entire network of air ducts may be dirty and in need of cleaning.

5. Melted Plastic

The furnace’s circuit board and wiring contain plastic insulation. If these areas get too hot, the plastic may melt and release a burning odor. A burning odor may also result from plastic items making their way into your home’s vent, ductwork or the furnace. A child’s toy, plastic wrapper or other small item may start to melt if it gets too hot when exposed to the stream of hot air created by the furnace.

6. Overheated Motor

An overheated motor may cause a burning oil, gunpowder or burning rubber smell from your furnace. The motor may overheat due to insufficient lubrication, a damaged belt or another problem with the system. Turn off your furnace until a service technician can diagnose the issue and fix it.

7. Electrical Malfunction

A smell of gunpowder or burning sulfur suggests that your furnace’s electrical components have overheated and are starting to burn. These odors come from the circuit board components getting too hot. This is an urgent situation that requires a prompt repair by qualified service technicians. Power off your furnace until repairs can be made.

Not in need of furnace repairs at the moment? Our technicians at Xtreme Heating & Cooling LLC also offer air conditioner repairs and heating and cooling maintenance, replacement and installation services in Omaha, NE. Our construction and remodeling, indoor air quality and geothermal services are designed with your comfort and budget in mind. For more details about what causes a burning smell from your furnace or to schedule an urgent repair with one of our certified technicians, contact us at Xtreme Heating & Cooling LLC today.

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