Winter’s quickly approaching, and you’ve decided to turn on the heater for the first time this season, when suddenly … eww, what’s that smell?
Yep, welcome to the club. Many homeowners deal with the very same issue. If you have noticed a bad smell when turning on the heat in your house, it’s not necessarily a cause for concern. Many heating systems are covered in dust by the time summer ends, resulting in an unpleasant burning smell.
Some smells are more dangerous than others, though. To ensure your household is safe, it’s vital to know what each smell means.
Here’s a quick overview packed with the information you need to know about the smell coming out of your heating system and what to do about it.
Bad Smell #1: Dusty or Light Burning
If your heater smells like burning plastic or dust, don’t worry — your heater has been sitting unused for months and now it’s burning off all the dust that’s gathered on top of it. This is a common issue many homeowners deal with come winter.
What to Do
Oftentimes, a burning smell means nothing serious. However, if you notice anything unusual or simply feel worried, reach out to your HVAC tech. Better to be safe than sorry!
Plus, there are some things you can do to prevent it from happening next time you turn on the heater, such as:
- Cover the unused heater during the summer so no dust can settle
- Replace the filter at least once a year
- Dust the heater regularly
Bad Smell #2: Electrical Burning
If the bad smell when turning on heat in your house reminds you of electrical burning or burning metal, you’re dealing with a much more serious issue. Electrical burning can be caused by:
- A frayed wire
- Electrical failure
- Failing motor
What to Do
If you see smoke rising from your unit, it’s most likely an electrical fire. Electrical fires are extremely dangerous, so you should turn the heating off and call an HVAC emergency service hotline right away. Vacate your house immediately.
If there’s no visible sign of burning, the smell may be caused by overheating. Overheating can eventually lead to fires, but this can be prevented if you check your unit:
- Ensure the device is properly turned off.
- Check the air filter. If it’s dirty, it’s most likely restricting airflow, which in turn leads to overheating.
- If the filter is dirty, replace it.
- If the filter is clean and the unit is overheating, this indicates a possible electrical fault, which can cause a fire. Turn the heater off at the circuit breaker and call an HVAC professional. We offer 24/7 emergency services: (434) 296-9980.
To prevent your unit from overheating, always:
- Keep the heater at least three feet away from any other object
- Stick to intermittent settings
- Ensure the heater isn’t left unattended
Remember, don’t try to turn the heater on again before an HVAC professional has a proper look at it. This could harm your heating system or cause a fire.
Bad Smell #3: Musty or Moldy
Okay, this is a really unpleasant one as far as smells go. If your house smells like dirty socks or stinky wet towels, there might be mold or a build-up of bacteria in your heater.
Since there’s a lot of condensation in the HVAC system when it’s on, mildew is one of the most common problems you can run into. Insufficient drainage can easily lead to mold in the air ducts.
What to Do
As soon as you notice it, you should:
- Check your air filters and clean or replace them if they’re dirty
- Call a professional technician if the smell persists. We offer 24/7 emergency services: (434) 296-9980.
Long-term exposure to mold can cause respiratory problems and trigger allergic reactions or asthma, so make sure you deal with the problem sooner rather than later.
Bad Smell #4: Rotten Eggs
As far as all the kinds of weird smells when turning on the heat go, a rotten egg smell wins first place. The smell is foul and deeply unpleasant, and what’s most important, it’s a big red flag signaling immediate danger.
The rotten-egg smell indicates that there’s a gas leak in your house. Natural gas itself has no detectable odor, but it’s such a dangerous gas to humans that the aroma of rotten eggs is added to it specifically for cases like this.
What to Do
Open the windows, turn the heat off, and evacuate immediately. Then, contact your gas company for an emergency service call.
A gas leak could cause a fire or an explosion. On your way out, don’t turn the lights on or off, don’t unplug electronic devices, and don’t interact with any electronic system, including your garage door opener or your house alarm.
Note: If you can see sparks or flames, don’t touch anything. Just leave as quickly as possible.
Contact Us to Find Out More
The best way to prevent a bad smell when turning on the heat in your house is to have routine HVAC maintenance. At Fitch Services, we provide twice-yearly HVAC maintenance programs, as well as a 24-hour emergency service. To ask any questions or to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed, insured technicians, call Fitch Services at (434) 296-9980 or use our contact form.