When your furnace kicks on, does it smell like burning hair or an electrical fire? These are just a few of the many unpleasant smells that your furnace can make. Fortunately, the cause of the smell is not always alarming. Sometimes it’s just a bit of dust; in other cases, something more serious may be at play. At Variable Comfort Solutions we’ve been inspecting and diagnosing furnaces in Huntington, WV, for many years. We’ve dealt with a variety of smelly, smokey furnaces, and we’ve been able to repair or replace them all.

The following are some of the most common causes of a furnace that smells like it’s burning:

Dirty Air Filter

Inside your furnace is a disposable mesh filter called an air filter. This filter is designed to protect your furnace and keep your air clean by trapping unwanted particulates. Everything from dust and dander to pet hair and bacteria can find its way into the air filter. As a rule of thumb, you should change the filter every three months or more. If you accidentally skip this step, you may notice a smoky smell coming from the furnace. This is because a clogged filter causes your furnace to work harder to push air through the system, leading to the unit overheating. Luckily, this one is an easy fix: all you have to do is replace the old filter with a new one!

Accumulated Dust

The burning dust odor is most common when you turn the furnace on for the first time of the season. This is natural and not a cause for alarm. During the warmer months, your furnace is sitting and dormant, which gives dust a chance to settle inside. When the furnace ignites the next time, it will burn away that layer of dust and create that pungent odor. This smell should only last a couple of minutes and has no detrimental effect on the unit.


Unfortunately, not all situations that lead to a burning-smelling furnace are easy to fix. Sometimes, that acrid smell is a sign of a mechanical problem. An overheated furnace is hot enough to burn dust and potentially melt the rubber casings around electrical wires. There are a few mechanical problems that can cause a furnace to overheat. A technician from Variable Comfort Solutions will be able to accurately pinpoint the problem.

Clogged Exhaust Flue

A key structure of any home heating system is the exhaust flue or furnace chimney. This structure is responsible for venting smoke and exhaust created during the combustion process. If the exhaust flue becomes clogged, blocked, or jammed, those fumes will become trapped inside your home. This is a dangerous situation since exhaust fumes are not healthy to breathe. If you notice a smoky smell or see smoke coming from the furnace or vents, switch off the furnace right away. Next, open the windows to remove the smoke from your house and call an emergency technician.

Faulty Wiring

Modern furnaces rely on a complex array of electrical wires to communicate with the thermostat and keep your home at a steady, comfortable temperature. Over time, these wires can degrade and break down. And in some cases, they weren’t installed properly to begin with. Both aging wires and wires installed too close to a heat source can melt. This creates a burning smell mixed with the smell of melting plastic. Diagnosing an electrical problem with a furnace requires a trained technician because there’s a risk of electrical shock. If you suspect your furnace’s electrical system needs service, let us know, and we’ll take care of it.

Furnace Repair Specialists in Huntington

If you’ve noticed a burning smell when your furnace turns on, chances are you don’t have to be alarmed. In this article, we filled you in on the most common causes of a burning furnace smell. In many cases, simply changing the air filter will do the trick. However, if the bad odor persists or is paired with smoke or the scent of melting plastic, let us know right away.

Variable Comfort Solutions will send a qualified technician to your home to inspect the system, diagnose the problem, and make high-quality repairs. We also offer maintenance, replacements, and repairs for both heaters and air conditioners. For all of your home heating and cooling needs, look no further than Variable Comfort Solutions.

Call us today to schedule furnace repairs in Huntington!

company icon