Have you ever noticed that your furnace smells funny when you turn it on for the first time every year? Chances are, there’s nothing to worry about. Most unpleasant or unfamiliar furnace smells result from simple, noncritical, maintenance-related issues or just come with the territory. However, hiding in these lists of innocuous odors are a few worrisome warning signs that something is wrong. Read on to learn which is which, with four harmless furnace smells and three that should trigger a call to the experts.
Harmless vs. Harmful Furnace Smells
Here in Northern California, furnaces aren’t as frequently used as in colder parts of the country. Still, the winter months mean colder temperatures and a need to elevate the comfort levels in our homes with a heating option, like a furnace. However, the first time you turn it on for the season, your furnace might smell like something is burning in your air vents.
This, along with various other furnace smells, may send you straight to the phone to call your friendly neighborhood HVAC specialist, but chances are, it’s perfectly normal. Most of the time, the smells that come from your furnace are harmless. Some degree of odor production is just part and parcel of using an appliance that generates heat and forces hot air throughout your home. However, there are a few cases that warrant a swift reaction.
4 Harmless Furnace Smells
As we mentioned above, most furnace odors are harmless. In fact, you may even see smoke coming from your furnace under normal and non-emergency circumstances. These four common furnace smells are harmless, and while you should keep an eye (or a nostril) out to make sure they dissipate, they are not a cause for immediate concern.
New Furnace Smell
All new furnaces smell like burning oil for at least a couple of hours the first time you turn them on. That’s because all new furnaces are burning oil the first time you turn them on. The smoke and scent produced during this process are a normal part of the appliance lifecycle. The good news is that the new furnace smell is not as unpleasant as it sounds. Even though it may produce some white or blue-colored smoke, and it is created by the protective oil coating on your new furnace’s heat exchange burning away as it gets hot for the first time, the odor itself is distinctively sweet. The smell of furnaces kicking on the first time has been compared to maple syrup.
While significantly less pleasant than its predecessor, this furnace odor is equally ubiquitous. The most common question about furnace smells is: Why does it smell like something is burning in my vents? The simple answer is that dust, hair, dander, and other debris build up in your air ducts throughout the year. These get toasted when your furnace turns on, creating the distinct and familiar scent of singed hair we associate with the first use of the season.
Musty or Dusty
Musty smells coming from your vents most likely mean your air ducts are in need of cleaning or that you need to change your filter. The possibility that mold or mildew might be growing is there, but without any additional respiratory symptoms, it’s unlikely. If you develop any flu-like symptoms, notice any visible water damage or moldy spots, or the smell persists after your filter is changed, call an air quality service for an evaluation.
The last of our common furnace smells that result from harmless issues is pet odors. The reason your vents smell like pet urine or poop is likely because there is an accident luring near one of your vent grilles. Find the source of the stench and clean up the residue to get rid of the smell. If no mess can be found or if you don’t own a pet, call a pest control specialist to check your home for evidence of animal infestation.
3 Furnace Smells to Worry About
While the scents listed above may not be pleasant, they don’t pose any immediate danger to you, your family, or your customers. However, there are a few furnace smells that are cause for concern. If you smell sulfur, soot, or sewage, you should call your local HVAC expert A.S.A.P. for guidance.
Furnace Smells Like Rotten Eggs
Sulfuric odors, like the famous rotten egg stench, are added to natural gas and propane to make them detectable to humans. These dangerous gases are flammable, poisonous, explosive, and odorless in their natural form. If you smell rotten eggs in your home, it indicates a possible gas leak. This is an emergency situation and should be treated as such. Get yourself, your pets, and your family out of the home and away from the danger immediately, and then call in an expert to handle the testing and any necessary repairs.
Furnace Smells Like Soot or Chemicals
If your furnace smells like soot or has a strong, sharp chemical odor, you need to call a furnace repair professional immediately. The most likely source of these odors is a crack in your heat exchanger, which presents a fire hazard. Soot is flammable, as are many types of fumes produced by faulty heating equipment, and these ignition sources can go undetected if not addressed as soon as possible. With so many fire concerns already, NorCal residents deserve the peace of mind that comes with a safe, working furnace.
Furnace Smells Like Sewage
Raw sewage has a distinct, memorable, and thoroughly unpleasant odor. While we may tolerate the scent at its source, it’s a concern when the smell creeps into other areas of the home. If you notice the stench of sewage coming from your vents, call your HVAC servicer and a good plumber immediately. (If you’re in NorCal, you’re in luck; Elevated Comfort is both.)
The most likely explanation for sewer smells coming from your furnace is that a sewer or wastewater line has ruptured near your system. Look around for soft spots in the ground or puddles of questionably liquid mud to identify the source of the leak, and let the experts do the rest. Sewage is a health hazard that needs to be cleaned up as soon as possible.
Got Furnace Odors? Call Elevated Comfort!
If you’ve noticed some unpleasant odors coming from your HVAC system, it may be a good time for furnace maintenance from a reputable HVAC contractor like Elevated Comfort. In most cases, furnace smells are no cause for immediate concern. However, a furnace replacement could be in order or even a plumbing repair. The best course of action to ensure the health and safety of everyone in your home or property is to call a qualified professional to assess the situation.
Call Elevated Comfort for your estimate today!