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Is It Normal for a Furnace to Smell?

Date: September 27, 2019

Furnace smell

Fall has arrived in the Palmetto State and as the days go on, you’re going to be relying on your furnace a lot to keep your family safe and warm in your South Carolina home.

If your furnace has been maintained by a heating oil expert over the years – including this year – it will more than likely do its job without any problems. But sometimes, especially if you’ve ignored the benefits of getting regular heating maintenance, your furnace will give you warning signs of a coming problem – and those signs will often come in the form of odd smells.

Strange odors emanating from your furnace can indicate a several problems; some are easy to fix, some are more complex. Here are some common furnace odors and what they may mean for your heating equipment.

  • Oil odors. If your system is working properly, you should never smell fuel oil. An oil smell could be caused by a leak, burner troubles, a heat exchanger failure or exhaust system problems. You should schedule service as soon as possible to correct this situation.
  • Smoky odors when your oil burner is operating. If a fireplace or exhaust fan is running at the same time as your oil burner, this can result in a smoky odor because a backdraft is pulling flue gases through the exhaust system and into the home.
  • Dusty/burning smell. A dusty, burning smell coming from your furnace can be quite common, especially early in the heating season; the smell is often the result of your furnace burning away dust and dirt that has accumulated during the offseason. If dust is the cause, the burning smell should go away after a few hours. If it doesn’t, try replacing your air filter (which you should do at the beginning of the season anyway) before you call your heating oil service contractor for service. Read more about your furnace air filter further on.
  • Electrical / burning wire smells. Electrical smells coming from your furnace are typically a sign of overheating. If your furnace is cycling often (turning on and off) for no apparent reason, it could be your equipment protecting itself from a more substantial (and costly) breakdown. Give your furnace a rest for a few hours; if the problem returns when you fire it up again, contact your heating oil service contractor for service.
  • Mechanical smells. Worn out rubber and grinding metal parts produce a similar odor to electrical overheating (imagine the smell the wheels make when a train brakes). These smells can indicate a serious problem that needs immediate attention; shut your heating system down and call a heating oil expert right away.

Remember to check the air filter on your oil furnace

One way to help your furnace operate without any trouble is to change or clean your furnace’s air filter as often as the manufacturer recommends. In general, you should check the filter’s condition about once a month and change/clean it when necessary.

If your air filter gets clogged with dust and other debris, there is less room for air to flow through your system and through your home. Your furnace will need to work harder to circulate air, which will result in an increase in your heating bills. Your home will become less comfortable and the indoor air quality will degrade. If neglected for too long, a dirty air filter can result in your furnace shutting down.

Four tips for checking your air filter

  1. Filters are located either inside the furnace or inside the return air vent.
  2. Some filter models are designed to be discarded and replaced with a new one.
  3. If your filter has a plastic frame, it can be cleaned and reused.
  4. Always follow manufacturer’s instructions and be sure to shut the furnace off before handling the filter.

If you’re not sure how to change the filter yourself but would like to, please contact your heating oil service provider for advice.

And if you think your oil furnace has seen better days and needs to be replaced, please go here to see how you can qualify for a $300 rebate. You’ll receive your rebate quickly and will be on your way to saving more money and energy for years to come.