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The Fall Furnace Question Everyone Asks

Is This HVAC Issue Happening at Your House?

heating, furnace

With cooler nights and even the occasional rainstorm, many Southern Californians are turning on their furnaces right about now. And like the flocks of Canadian geese migrating south, the crisp mornings and the crunch of colorful autumn leaves underfoot (okay, maybe it’s just one or two leaves), there is one question on many of our clients’ minds as they turn up the thermostat. It’s a familiar concern as traditional as the roasted turkey that’s coming to so many tables in just a few weeks.

What in the heck is THAT SMELL coming from the vents?

Welcome to autumn.

The truth is that it’s the season for furnace smells. And the odor coming from your vents? It could be one of several issues, ranging from mild to serious. If it’s occurring just as you turn on the furnace for the first time all season, it’s likely to be the scent of dust that accumulated all summer on the heat exchanger and other parts of your heating system. Now that you have turned the burner ignition on, it is burning away debris and sending the smell through your air vents.  It should be gone in a few hours. If it’s not, consider switching out your air filters. A dirty one could be responsible. A side note? Clean air filters will result in far more energy efficiency and better performance from your system overall.

So let’s say it’s not the smell of burning dust. Does it smell like burning plastic? If you have children or even a dog or cat, say hello to another common, seasonal HVAC furnace problem. A toy, or other plastic item could be inside your system, deposited by a curious little person or even adventurous pet at some point over the past few months. Unfortunately for Barbie or Ken, their face could be melting off right about now. Shut off your system and check your vents.

What if it seems like more of a burning electrical smell? First, you need to rule out the possibility of frayed, damaged or otherwise compromised electrical wiring. It goes without saying that this could represent a serious fire hazard in your home. Don’t take a chance. Call your HVAC technician to come have a look before operating your furnace again.

The good news? The burning electrical smell could also be a blower motor that’s overheated. Normally, a furnace turns off when this component gets too hot. However, if this safety function is somehow compromised, your furnace could be continuing to operate despite the problem with the motor. The solution could be as easy as changing out a clogged filter to make the smell go away.  However, if you’ve changed the filter and there’s still the odor of an electrical burn, turn off your system and call a qualified technician before you use it again.

Most common furnace problems are readily fixed. Get in touch with your Air-Tro professional today to enjoy indoor comfort all season long.


Having trouble with your air conditioner or heater? We’ve been keeping California comfortable since 1969. Call Air-Tro today! (626) 357-3535.