Furnace Smells 101: What’s That Smell When I Turn On My Heater?

by | Dec 29, 2023

Furnace smells are common, especially when you first turn on your heater after a period of inactivity. And, for many homeowners in the Phoenix area, that time is NOW. After a scorching hot summer and air conditioners working overtime, we’re finally enjoying cooler temperatures. But, that also means it could be time to turn on the heat!

Here, our Queen Creek HVAC experts will walk you through some of the most common furnace smells. These are odors you could encounter when starting up your heating system for the first time this season. Or, you might notice them later on in the heating season if your HVAC system needs repair or maintenance.

Some furnace odors are easy to fix and aren’t really a reason for alarm. Others indicate a serious problem and should be investigated right away. If you’re ever unsure whether to be concerned or not, play it safe by scheduling service with your local HVAC company as soon as possible.

4 Common Furnace Smells That Indicate It’s Time for HVAC Repair or Maintenance

The smell: Your furnace smells dusty when you first turn it on.

What’s happening: It’s normal for dust and debris to accumulate on your furnace’s elements or burners during periods of inactivity. When you start the heater up at the beginning of the heating season, this dust burns off and emits a distinct odor. While this generally doesn’t constitute an HVAC emergency, dirty filters can cause your furnace to operate inefficiently and also impact your indoor air quality.

The smell: You notice a damp or musty odor after your heater has been idle.

What’s happening: There’s a good chance that your home is too humid, with excess moisture inside an inactive furnace leading to mold and mildew growth. When the heater is turned on and heats up, you’ll notice an unpleasant odor similar to a musty basement or smelly socks.

The smell: A rotten or rancid odor is emanating from your furnace.

What’s happening: Although it’s unpleasant to think about, you could have a dead animal decaying inside your heater. Mice, squirrels, and other small creatures have a habit of making a home inside warm, cozy places. If that happens to be your furnace, you’ll want that animal removed before running your system for the season. It’s also a good idea to schedule a thorough furnace cleaning with your local HVAC contractor to completely remove any odor-causing debris and ensure your system can operate properly.

The smell: Your furnace smells like there’s plastic or rubber burning.

What’s happening: You could have an electrical issue like exposed wires or weak electrical connections inside your heating system. This is one of those furnace smells that should NOT be ignored but should be dealt with immediately. Keep your system turned off until you can get it thoroughly inspected and repaired by a professional HVAC technician.

HVAC Maintenance: The Solution For Furnace Smells and Preventing Expensive HVAC Repairs

When it comes to preventing alarming or annoying furnace smells, we can turn to some wise advice from Benjamin Franklin: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In other words, following a regular maintenance schedule can often prevent a variety of HVAC problems, including strange smells or expensive repairs.

For example, regular filter changes can prevent dust and debris accumulation inside your furnace. This helps your system run more efficiently but can also have a positive effect on your indoor air quality.

Routine visual inspection by a licensed HVAC technician can also be a great way to spot existing issues or problems in the making. For example, an HVAC expert might detect hidden ductwork tears that affect system performance or air quality even if the filters are in great shape and have been regularly replaced.

Expert HVAC Sales and Service in Queen Creek, AZ

At Team AIR-zona, we pride ourselves in helping Phoenix area residents stay comfortable in their homes all year long. That includes HVAC repair, replacement, and maintenance provided with award-winning service from NATE-certified technicians who have decades of experience.

Customers who take advantage of our HVAC maintenance plan enjoy significant benefits, including:

  • Regular HVAC tune-ups
  • Discounted HVAC repairs and replacement
  • Priority scheduling
  • Emergency service outside of regular business hours
  • And more!

Many of our clients choose to schedule furnace maintenance right before or as soon as cooler weather arrives. That way, our expert technicians can start up their furnace, perform routine maintenance tasks, and detect any underlying issues that indicate the need for repairs.

Is YOUR furnace ready for cooler weather? Contact us today to schedule service and let’s make sure! Although we’re based in Queen Creek, we also provide expert HVAC services in Tempe, Sun Lakes, Gilbert, Florence, San Tan Valley, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Apache Junction, Chandler, Maricopa, and surrounding areas.

Contact the Best HVAC Contractors in Arizona

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