What To Do When A Burning Smell Comes From Vents

One of the most intimidating parts of homeownership, especially for first-time homeowners, is keeping up on maintenance and dealing with problems when they arise in your heating system. Some aren’t sure what to look for. For example, cold floors could be harmless or it could mean a plumbing leak. Sometimes we second-guess ourselves. For example, is this a normal musty old house odor or do I have a mold problem? Or, is my sink draining slowly or am I just impatient?

However, there are some signs that are hard to ignore, particularly in regards to smell. For example, rotten eggs can mean a carbon monoxide leak since municipal utility companies add special chemicals to indicate a leak. If you notice a burning smell coming from your vents, it could indicate a variety of issues.
In some cases, it could be a fire in your home. If that’s the case, get off the internet.
Call the fire department immediately and get your family to somewhere safe. To learn more about what a burning smell in your vents might mean and what to do about it, keep reading below!

What Burning Smell From Your Vents Might Mean

Furnace and Heat Pump Issues

Sometimes the problem is in your furnace and heat pump. This is often the case during the winter.

Heater Burning Off Dust

Oftentimes, it’s not a fire. Throughout the warmer months, dust settles on your furnace’s heat exchanger and ductwork. When you turn on your heater and the heat exchanger warms up, the dust will burn off, producing that burnt smell. The smell should dissipate within a few minutes. However, this means there’s a build-up of dust inside the furnace and ducts. You should schedule a duct cleaning.

Dirty Filter

In addition to scheduling a duct cleaning, you should check your furnace’s air filter. An air filter keeps the air in your home clean and it also makes sure that the air going into the furnace system is free from dust, hair, pet dander, and other airborne contaminants. If your air filter is clogged, these contaminants can get sucked into the blower and cause it to overheat. This can also lead to dirt and dust reaching the heat exchanger and heating up. Both of these will cause a burning smell and can be mostly avoided by changing your filter regularly.

Dirty Ductwork

Debris Burning

As the weather changes, pine needles fall, the wind blows grass cuttings and other debris around, dust and dirt settle on surfaces and in crevasses. Sometimes if you smell something burning in your vents, it could be that debris has made its way into your ductwork. A good duct cleaning by knowledgeable professionals should help.

Electrical Issues

Electrical Shorts

Electrical shorts happen from time to time and in some cases, they can be costly. Check your heat pump’s, air conditioner, and furnace’s electrical kits. Electrical shorts in these areas can lead to melted wires or insulators, producing a burnt smell.

In the meantime, turn your unit off and call a specialist. A heating and electrical specialist will be able to check your heat pump, furnace system, and electrical units to make sure no wires are burning. If it’s not this issue that’s causing the burnt smell, they’ll get to the bottom of it.

A/C Issues

Overheating AC

Check your air conditioner. Is your air conditioner in “cooling” mode? This could mean trouble in your air conditioner unit. Turn it off immediately and reach out to a professional air conditioner specialist. Here’s what could be happening in your air conditioner:

Motor Wearing Out

Sometimes, your motor in your air conditioner can wear out. When your motor wears out it will overwork and sometimes overheat. This can mean a component of the motor is melting and will smell like something burning. A specialist can check for issues across the entire AC unit

Motor Bearings Wearing Out

Over the years, your motor bearings can become worn and break down. This puts extra stress on your motor and can lead to your air conditioner’s motor overheating. This can cause a burning smell.

Call An HVAC Specialist

If you happen to notice a burnt smell in your vents, the problem could be somewhere throughout your entire heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system. If you’re located in North Idaho, call J.A. Bertsch Heating & Cooling. Year after year, we’ve been honored to be named Best Heating & A/C Contractors for the Coeur d’Alene and Spokane area. Our team has more than 30 years of experience and we offer both same-day service for repairs plus 24-hour emergency service. Call 208-715-9694 to schedule an appointment.

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