Smelling Out Heater Problems Before Your Unit Breaks Down

Wonder what that bad odor coming from your furnace is? Metro-Atlanta heating contractors at Gagne A/C offer instruction on what it means and what to do about it.

As soon as the temperature starts dropping outside, you most likely crank up the heater to keep your family nice and warm through the cold weather months. When it’s frigid outside, it doesn’t get much better than relaxing in the warmth of your home with a warm cup of hot chocolate—unless your heater starts giving off a strange or foul odor.

If you notice a funny smell when you turn your heat on, it may be something as minor as replacing a filter, or as serious as a broken electrical component or gas leak. By heeding your nose and identifying the smell, you just might be able to figure out what is wrong with your system and how to fix it before it becomes a serious and costly problem.

Unusual Odor When First Turned On

This is the most common bad smell complaint heating contractors receive. When you turn your furnace on for the first time each year, you may notice an unusual odor that is similar to the smell of something burning, or a dirty or musty aroma. This is normal.

When a heater goes unused for months at a time, layers of dust and dirt build up in the ductwork and on the unit’s parts. As the furnace becomes active again, it burns off the debris and the ducts blow dust throughout the house, creating that infamous smell.

Although unpleasant, this odor typically dissipates in the matter of a couple hours. If it persists however, you may have a more serious problem with your unit. Call a metro-Atlanta heating contractor to come take a look.

Musty Odors

If your heater develops a musty smell that does not go away, you may have a mold problem. Furnace filters provide a perfect atmosphere for mold to thrive, which is why they should be replaced or cleaned as needed once per year.

Burning Smell

Persisting burning plastic or burning electronics odors can be caused by one of several reasons, some more major than others. For instance, an object lodged in the ductwork can start to smell when it gets overheated (Children’s toys are the most common culprit). Fixing this is as easy as removing the object.

Or a burning smell may mean you have a much more serious problem, such as the furnace motor overheating or a cracked heat exchanger. If you cannot find a foreign object lodged in the ductwork or in a register, it is highly recommended that you call an experienced heating contractor to come take a look, as it may be a fire hazard.

Oil, Gas, or Smoke Smells

Different odors can mean different things, depending on what type of furnace you have. If you have an oil furnace, the strong smell of oil probably means your filter is clogged and will need to be replaced. A smoky smell is probably the result of a clogged chimney. Both problems can easily be fixed by a heating contractor.

For those who have a propane or natural gas furnace, a lingering odor could be cause for serious concern. The smell of gas, or a rotten egg odor caused by the detection agent, may mean there is a gas leak or that the pilot light has gone out. If it’s the pilot light, you can simply relight it to quench the smell. However, if the odor does not go away, you should ventilate the home and evacuate until a professional is called in. Serious gas leaks have been known to trigger a fire or explosion.

Sewer Stink

The smell of sewage is one of the worst odors that can overwhelm a home. If you mainly smell a sewer stink when your furnace is running, then it’s likely that leaked sewer gas is getting sucked into your heater’s air intake, causing it to circulate throughout the home. Or you may have a breach in the ductwork near the source of the smell.

Dead Animals

Small animals, such as rats, mice, and squirrels sometimes seek shelter from the cold by climbing (or clawing and digging) their way into your ductwork to stay warm. But if the animal gets stuck and dies in there, the decaying smell will loft through your house when you turn the system on. You must have the dead animal removed to get rid of the odor.

The lesson to take away: never ignore your nose.

If you smell a persistent, unexplained odor coming from your heater or furnace, call an experienced metro-Atlanta heating contractor at Gagne A/C immediately at (678) 221-4328. We provide emergency heating and air conditioning repair on all models, keeping your family warm and safe all winter long.

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