When temperatures begin to drop, we commonly get calls from customers about a burning smell when the heat is turned on for the first time. Usually, it is nothing to worry about, but it is good to know what the possible sources of any "smoke like" odors may be.
Dust in your central heating and air system
In areas with commonly mild temperatures, heating systems can go unused for several months. After sitting idle for long stretches of warm weather, elements of your heating system may accumulate a layer of dust. When you turn on your heater for the first time during the winter months, dust burns off and emits an odor that circulates through your ductwork and out of your vents. The air ducts themselves also commonly have dirt and dust in them if your system was unused for a stretch of time. These two issues are the most likely culprits behind the burning smell in your home at the start of the season.
Even after you are using your system frequently, if temperatures are unusually low or if you have adjusted your thermostat more than a few degrees to raise the temperature, you may still notice this burning odor. This issue is usually the heat strips activating in your air handler to supplement your system's increase in heat. Many heat pump systems include these heat strip-air handler combinations. If you have a system with heat strips that haven't activated for many months, some dust particles have built up that will burn off when the strips activate for the first time.
If the burning smell coming from your heating system continues beyond your initial use at the onset of colder weather, the culprit could be faulty heater components. Another possibility is debris or objects that have come into contact with heating elements. The most serious hazard is electrical shorts in your heat pump, which can melt wires or insulators.
How to address it
While dust burning off during the first run of your system is likely the cause of a smoky or burning odor, if you continue to notice the smell, it is best to call a professional to diagnose the problem. You will also want to have regularly scheduled preventive maintenance to keep your system running problem free. Also, annual checkups will keep your heating and cooling equipment performing in top condition, which saves you money on energy costs and repair services.
For more air duct tips and services contact the professionals at Gator Clean.