What Does the Smell Coming from Your Furnace Mean?

October 4, 2012

Decipher the smells coming from your furnace

It happens every fall in homes throughout the Midwest.  When the veil of darkness falls over Kansas City, overnight temperatures get colder and colder.  Brave homeowners will hold their breath as they approach the thermostat and turn on the furnace for the first time.  Then it appears – not a ghost or a goblin – worse! It’s “that” burning smell.  Some say it’s like burning dirt, others say burning hair or even flesh.
“Homeowners can rest assured that smell does not signal impending doom for their furnace,” Steve Burbridge, owner of Anthony Plumbing, Heating and Cooling explains.  “Throughout the spring and summer, dust particles and even dried skin cells collect on the heat exchanger inside the furnace.  When the furnace is turned on, that collection of particles burns off and causes that rather unpleasant smell.”
There really is no way to prevent the smell, but opening the windows or turning on the attic fan, if you have one, can help diminish its potency.  The smell usually goes away after the first few times the furnace heats up.
Other seasonal tips to take the fright out of turning on the furnace include:

  • Keep the area around your furnace clean and unobstructed.
  • Don’t store combustible material such as paint thinners, gasoline, etc. near your furnace.
  • Have your heating system tuned up annually by a professional company.
  • Have a clean filter installed.  We incurred a warmer than average summer, so your blower motor ran longer and filters are dirty.
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