Why Does the Furnace Smell Like It’s Burning?

burning furnace

Our weather in central North Carolina can be a bit unpredictable this time of year with 80-degree temps one day and 50-degree temps the next. However, many homeowners still find themselves turning on the heat during the month of October. When you turn on your heat for the first time after months of being dormant, you may find that your furnace is giving off a burning smell. It may even produce a flame. If you've never exerienced this phenomenon, it can be quite alarming. Luckily, the burning smell from your furnace is very common. It's also not something that should be ignored.

With that in mind, today we’re going to answer the burning question, “Why does my furnace smell like something’s burning?” We'll also discuss what you should do if that smell persists.


Chances are that you haven't given much thought to your furnace since the last time you used it (say, in March or April). During the time, your furnace has been accumulating dust on its internal components, including inside the heat exchanger and around the burners.

When the weather finally cools down enough to use your furnace again, the dust that has accumulated on the system will burn off. As such, when it burns, it'll also produce a burning smell that emanates throughout your home. The good news is that this burning smell is typically not a safety hazard and should go away after a couple of hours.

Can you avoid this from happening?

The best way to minimize the burning smell is to remove the dust accumulation. How? Either dust the unit or vacuum away any dust before turning your furnace on for the first time? You might also consider turning on your furnace during a mild day when you can open up your windows to let the burning smell escape.

What if My Furnace ALWAYS Smells Like Something is Burning?

A burning smell at the start of the season is normal. However, it is not normal for your furnace to produce a burning smell beyond those first few times of use, and could mean that your system has a problem worth contacting a professional.

What could be the cause?

Your air filter could be clogged. When the furnace filter is clogged, the blower motor has to work extra hard which can lead to overheating and produce a burning smell from your furnace. A clogged filter will also cause extra dirt to build up on your furnace, which will burn off and produce a smell as we just discussed. You may want to check your filter to see if this addresses the problem.

If not, your furnace may be experiencing some sort of electrical issue, which can be a fire hazard. Be sure to call CHOICE Heating & Air Conditioning today so that we can inspect your system and take care of any problems before they threaten the safety of your home. While we're there, we can do your annual furnace tune-up and perform a full safety inspection on your system to completely get rid of that burning smell in your furnace.

What If The Burning Smell Persists?

Give us a call. While many homeowners don't take the time to schedule a fall maintenance check, a persistent burning smell shouldn't be ignored.  Whether you need help resolving the burning smell mystery or you're just trying to stay ahead, regularly servicing your air conditioner, heater and ductwork can extend the life of your HVAC system by years, as well as improve your interior air quality. Don't wait until your heat doesn't work later this year, make your appointment today!

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