October 21, 2020

As the summer heat ends in Maplewood, it’s time to start thinking about turning on your furnace. Unlike turning on your air conditioner, which is usually uneventful, turning on your furnace for the first time in a season is generally accompanied by an unpleasant burning smell. While this smell may be alarming, it usually goes away fairly quickly. Have you ever wondered what causes this once-in-a-season burning smell, though? We at Primary Service Group would be glad to explain this phenomenon as a way to help you understand your furnace better.

Parts of a Furnace

To understand what causes the burning smell in your furnace, it’s important to first understand the main parts that make up your furnace. In a gas furnace from Primary Service Group, the main components are the burner and the heat exchanger. The burner is essentially a tube with small holes through which the natural gas or propane flows. When the gas mixes with the air, combustion occurs thanks to an igniter.

This combustion creates a steady flame that then raises the temperature of the heat exchanger, which is essentially a metal plate located above the burner. As air is forced over the heat exchanger by the blower fan, the temperature of the air rises, resulting in a comfortable home for you and your family.

In an electric furnace, the process is a bit more simple. An electric furnace contains one or more electric coils that are made from a metal that resists the flow of electricity. As the flow is resisted, the metal in the coils heats up. As air is forced over these coils, its temperature rises, allowing you to warm your home to the desired temperature.

Dust-Collection Devices

During the heating season, the components mentioned above work hard to produce heat to help keep your home warm. When it’s too hot to run your furnace, though, these components essentially become dust-collection devices.

Even though the air is still being forced over these components on its way to your air conditioner’s evaporator coil, this moving air doesn’t have enough velocity to keep the dust from collecting. Therefore, by the time heating season rolls around, you have a fairly thick layer of dust on your furnace’s heating components.

As soon as you turn on your furnace for the first time, all of this dust ignites due to the high temperatures involved. Given the multiple ingredients contained in the dust, you end up with a unique burning smell that is much different than the smell you get from a bonfire or grill. Since the smoke from the dust is in-line with your ductwork, it is quickly spread throughout your home, potentially setting off your home’s smoke detectors.

Is Burning Dust Harmful?

Although you don’t want to breathe the byproducts of burning dust on a regular basis, the short time that you’re exposed to it when you first turn on your furnace isn’t a problem. Additionally, the burning dust isn’t harmful to your furnace’s components, especially considering the high temperatures at which the dust is burned.

In most cases, the dust will produce very little ash that will either settle in your ducts or add a thin film on your furniture and other furnishings. Either way, furnaces from Primary Service Group are designed knowing that this dust burning will occur, meaning that it is totally safe and normal. Of course, if the burning smell lingers for more than a few minutes, it could be an indication of a more serious problem that requires immediate attention.

Can the Smell Be Prevented?

If you or a family member are particularly sensitive to the smell of burning dust, then it makes sense to try and avoid this occurrence, even though it only lasts for a few minutes. To reduce the burning smell, you can have someone from Primary Service Group come to your home before you turn on your furnace for the first time so that they can clean and maintain your furnace.

In addition to cleaning the burners, heat exchanger, and heating coils, the technician will clean your blower fan, check your air filter, look for any possible damage, inspect your electrical connections, and lubricate all moving parts. Therefore, by having this service completed, you can avoid most or all of the burning smell and ensure that your furnace is operating as it should.

Another way to cut down on the burning smell is to open a few windows when you first turn on your furnace. You can also use a portable air purifier in rooms where the smell is stronger to remove the small particles that are causing the smell.

Are There Bad Burning Smells?

One reason that many people are alarmed by the burning smell when they first turn on their furnace is that burning smells from appliances typically aren’t a good thing. When it comes to your furnace, if you notice a burning smell anytime after the first time you turn it on, it’s probably a good idea to call Primary Service Group to have someone come out and take a look at it.

For example, if you smell something that smells like gunpowder, it’s possible that your furnace’s circuit board or fan motor is overheating. These components can overheat for a variety of reasons that typically relate to poor furnace maintenance. This is especially true of a fan motor, as a well-lubricated fan is unlikely to overheat, even during extremely cold weather when it is being used frequently.

Another way that poor maintenance can lead to a burning smell is if you fail to change your air filter often enough. As the air filter becomes saturated with dust, there will be fewer pores through which air can flow. This means that your system will have to work harder to pull in the necessary volume of air, leading to overheating components.

Other types of burning smells you may encounter include electrical burning smells, plastic burning smells, or the smell of smoke. If you come across any of these smells, turn off your furnace until a technician from Primary Service Group can come and do a thorough inspection.

Giving You Peace of Mind

At Primary Service Group, we understand that you want to have peace of mind while keeping your home to be as comfortable as possible. That’s why we offer prompt and professional maintenance and repairs for your furnace as well as your air conditioner, all throughout the year. We can also take care of installing a new furnace or air conditioner.

Other ways we offer peace-of-mind include air duct cleaning to keep your family healthy, water heater installation to prevent water or gas leaks, drain repair to prevent overflowing drains, and other plumbing services to ensure you always have access to safe and clean drinking water. For over 15 years, we’ve been proud to provide this area with top-notch service that has allowed us to continue to grow and receive five-star reviews on our website and across our social media channels. If you’re concerned about the operation of your furnace and need some assistance, feel free to contact us at Primary Service Group today.

company icon