Few things are worse than having your heater emit a foul odor when it’s turned on. Many Mesa homeowners encounter a dry, burnt smell when using their heaters for the very first time during the winter season. This is a likely indication that your home heating system needs maintenance. However, certain burning odors could be cause for serious concern.

Dry, Hot, Dusty Smells Are Incredibly Common

The odor of burning lint and dust is something that many people are well-familiar with. If you haven’t taken the time to dust off your HVAC system’s air registers, vents, or grills, you’re likely smelling the accumulated debris on these surfaces as they heat up. You can wait for the odor to dissipate on its own by letting these build-ups gradually burn off. These are smells that will often go away after just one to two heating cycles.

You also have the option of shutting your heater off and taking the time to catch up on some much-needed maintenance. You can use your vacuum cleaner and its hose attachments to remove debris from accessible areas. At heater vents and grills, you can use a damp cloth as needed. If you haven’t done so already, schedule professional heater maintenance. Not only is this key for keeping your heating system fresh-smelling, but it will also give HVAC technicians the opportunity to verify that your heater is in good working order and safe for use.

Something’s Trapped in Your Heating System

You may be greeted with the pungent aroma of melting rubber or plastic when you turn your heater on. Surprisingly, these heater odors are also fairly common. They’re most often experienced in busy, bustling households with small children. They usually mean that someone has stuffed a toy or other object into the heating system. When foreign objects are put into heating systems or fall into them, they have to be manually taken out. Unlike built-up dirt and dust, these problems don’t gradually self-resolve.

It’s also important to note that certain plastics will release toxic fumes every time they heat up. Some rubber products even pose the risk of fire. If you smell burning rubber or plastic when you turn your heater on, shut your heating system down. If you can spot the foreign object in an accessible location, wait for it to cool down before attempting to extract it. If you can’t reach the offending item, contact an HVAC company instead. HVAC professionals can find and remove foreign objects and clean up any residues they’ve left behind.

Burning Fabric

If you or someone else in the home has moved furniture around during the summer season, you may have fabric or upholstered items blocking or sitting too close to a heater vent or grill. When fabrics and furnishings become increasingly hot, the odors they emit become more noticeable. Certain fabrics and upholstered items can be incredibly flammable. Thus, it’s always best to shut the heating system down and find the culprit.

Before turning your heating system on in the winter, take the time to check all of the vents or grills throughout your home. Make sure that drapes, couches, and other items have adequate clearance. This will prevent unpleasant burning odors and limit the risk of fire. It will additionally allow for the even distribution of heat throughout all rooms. This way, there won’t be noticeable cold spots in the living environment, and your heater won’t have to overwork to create the desired indoor temperature.

Singed Fur and Decay

Some heater odors have causes that are incredibly unpleasant. During the increasingly cold weeks of late autumn and early winter, many small-sized animals seek shelter in HVAC systems. If your HVAC system has an accessible point of ingress, there’s always a possibility that a rodent or other animal has wandered in. Worse still, many animals have a hard time finding their way back out. When pests die inside of the heating system, their remains should always be professionally removed. HVAC technicians can ensure that all remnants and byproducts are completely extracted. They can also thoroughly sanitize and deodorize all affected areas. These services won’t just eliminate unpleasant smells. They’ll also protect both resident health and your indoor air quality.

Electrical Wiring Problems

Among the most dangerous sources of burnt heater odors are electrical wiring problems. These can be the result of general wear and tear. They can also be caused by pest problems within the HVAC system or by faulty installation, among other things. Continuing to use your heater when electrical problems exist can lead to overheating, a damaged blower motor, or a cracked heat exchanger. When the heat exchanger is compromised, harmful combustion gases can enter the living environment. Worse still, electrical problems can compromise your heating system’s emergency shut-off. The best way to prevent this from happening is by taking fast action as soon as these issues are suspected.

Odors caused by electrical wiring often have a faint, slightly sweet smell. They’re much different from odors caused by accumulated dust, trapped rodents, or furnishings that are too close to grills. Whenever you identify these smells, turn your heating system off immediately. Then be sure to call an HVAC company for service.

It’s Time to Have Your Air Ducts Cleaned

HVAC air ducts should be cleaned approximately once every three to five years. If you’ve never had these services performed in your home before, your air ducts could be the source of your burning smell. Dirt, dust, and other debris that get trapped in these spaces will create pervasive burnt odors when your heater is in operation. During your annual heater inspection, ask your HVAC technician to help you establish a needs-specific schedule for air duct cleaning. You might want to have these services performed more often if you live near a freeway or by an active construction site. If your outdoor spaces aren’t completely landscaped yet, having your air ducts cleaned more often is probably a good choice. Anything that increases the amount of dirt and other particulates floating around in your indoor air will create the need for more frequent air duct maintenance.

Burnt odors when your heater is turned on aren’t necessarily cause for panic. It’s important to determine the most likely source of the odor and then take action. Homeowners can usually eliminate build-ups of dust on their own. More often than not, toys and other foreign objects can be spotted and pulled out as well. However, if you suspect that your heater odors are caused by trapped animals, damaged electrical wiring, or dirty ducts, you’ll need to call professionals in.

At Reliable Air Conditioning, we’re well-versed in identifying and resolving unpleasant heater odors. We’ve been providing heating and air conditioning installation, maintenance, and repairs for more than 15 years. We also offer indoor air quality service, ductless mini-splits, and an impressive selection of in-demand HVAC products. If you have a pervasive burning odor in your Mesa, Arizona, home whenever your heater is on, call us today.

company icon