What Do Those Weird Furnace Smells Mean?

No one’s home smells perfect all the time, but certain furnace smells require immediate attention. We’ll help you know which ones may be indicative of a serious problem in this guide.

If Your Furnace Smells Like Dust Is Burning…

It’s probably not a reason to freak out.

In fact, furnace smells like burning dust, or simply food left on the stove too long, are one of the most common odors that can come out when you crank up your heat for the first time in a few months.

It’s most likely that this admittedly gross furnace smell is just dust that has gathered on your air filters over the spring and summer months finally burning itself off. Still, if you’ve noticed the scent still hasn’t gone away after a few hours of heating, it’s best to check the air filters to see if they need replacing.

Also, remember that less serious smells are no joke. In fact, around 30 people die every year from fires started by their heating systems, with home heating systems making up 16% of all residential fires.

If for no other reason than peace of mind, call on the services of a professional if the furnace smell persists.

Panic Level: Low

If It Smells Like An Electrical Fire…

If your furnace smells like burning plastic, (we know you remember that one time your hair straightener melted your plastic makeup tubes) an electrical fire, or is giving off a strangely metallic scent, you probably already know it’s not exactly great news.

In the majority of cases, this just means that your system overheated – and likely, it will just shut itself off to cool down (but you’ll still need to call a professional in order to get it turned back on.)

Still, it’s likely a more costly than it is dangerous situation, and one that will most certainly require the services of a professional heating/cooling technician.

The motor of your furnace may have burned out altogether, whether due to overuse or simply age of the materials – it’s like your furnace’s way of telling you it needs new parts!

Or, something – like your child’s toy! –  simply could have fallen down and gotten caught in the furnace.

No matter what, if your furnace smells like burning electricity, shut your furnace off ASAP if it’s not automatic and call a technician. Keep your nose alert for the next few days, to ensure the smell doesn’t come back.

Panic Level: Medium To High

If It Smells Like Sulfur Or Rotten Eggs…

You’ve heard the old saying, “Last one there’s a rotten egg!”

However, when it comes to your furnace, a scene of eggs that have gone bad is anything but a laughing matter.

Though rare, unfortunately explosions or severe burns resulting from furnace fires can in fact happen – and the scent of sulfur or rotten eggs from your furnace is not something that you can just afford to hope will go away in a couple of hours.

At the most serious level, a sulfur smell could indicate a gas leak, whether it’s coming from the furnace itself or another line in your home. In fact, if you’re smelling anything at all, it’s a good sign.

Why? Because many gas companies actually make their gas smell so strongly on purpose, so that homeowners can know that there’s a serious situation going on in their homes.

So, if you smell sulfur or rotten eggs, please err on the side of caution: open up as many windows as possible, turn off your heating system if you can, (as quickly as you can!) gather your family members, and leave your home. Call a trusted heating technician from a neighbor’s house.

Panic Level: Extremely High

If It Smells A Little Bit Like Your Attic…

You can likely relax: the only thing your furnace smell is trying to tell you is that you can’t put off spring cleaning anymore (it’s OK, we won’t tell anyone it’s been a few years.)

Likely, your air duct has just collected a little dirt and dust (though it could also be indicative of a nasty mold problem) and needs to be changed or cleaned. It’s different from the first dustier smell, however, because nothing is “burning off” in this situation.

Instead, what’s happening is that the heater is blowing this scent around your home – which is just gross! Just get the ventillation systems professionally cleaned and consider switching out your air filter.

Also, take note if you have an air humidifier: an attic smell could be an indication that it too, is covered in mildew or mold. This is also something to take care of, but not just because the smell is unplesant to your family and guests.

Studies show that the quality of your home’s air can have a serious effect on your health: it can worsen pre-existing conditions like asthma, and some dirt can even contain hazardous chemicals and toxins.

Better to get that out of there – don’t just spray an air freshener in your home to cover up the furnace smell (though believe us, we understand the temptation!

Panic Level: Low, But Maybe A Little Embarrassed!

Final Tips To Keep Warm – Safely!

Sometimes, prevention is the best cure. We recommend looking into local heating and cooling companies that

We recommend looking into local heating and cooling companies that offer a service cleaning and safety check for your furance.

No matter how annoying your furnace smell is, rest assured, it’s just not something you can afford to ignore.

Though most smells are only alerting you to minor problems, the fact is that if left ignored or untreated, your furnace could lead to home air pollution, fire, or simply a heater that won’t do anything to keep you warm all winter. Nobody wants to be freezing cold in a snowstorm!

To make sure your family and home are safe, work with technicians you can trust to do things right the first time: get in touch with us today to have your home’s heating and cooling system checked out. You’ll sleep easier knowing everything’s warm and cozy with your furnace.