It happens pretty nearly every fall. After months of not being used, the weather is finally cold enough to force you to turn on your heating system. However, after switching the thermostat to “heat,” you begin to notice a weird odor emanating from somewhere in your home.

Is this an indication that something is terribly wrong with your heating system? That is a possibility, but there are other smells that although unpleasant, do not necessarily signal a larger issue.

How can you know the difference? The best way is to give Delaware Heating and Air a call. One of our knowledgeable and friendly technicians can put your mind at ease and perhaps suggest upgrades and repairs that will keep your family toasty and warm all winter long.

What’s That Weird Odor?

Most people will notice one of four smells emanating from their heating system, particularly if the system hasn’t been used in quite a while. These smells are:

  • Burning
  • Mechanical
  • Chemical
  • Rotten eggs

Let’s talk about each of these odors, including what they mean and how to remedy the situation.

Burning Odors

Did you catch a burning scent the first time you turned on your heating system this year? This is perhaps the most common smell that is associated with turning on the heater after months of disuse. Typically, the cause is either an accumulation of dirt and dust or a clogged air filter.

It is completely normal for dirt and dust to build up around your heating system during the summer. All of that debris naturally will burn off when you start using the heater again. Additionally, the heating system’s air filter is designed to catch a multitude of airborne particles. When it gets clogged, there will be even more debris for the heating system to burn.

No one enjoys it when a burning odor pervades their home. If this has been a problem for your heating system in the past, then it may make sense to have an HVAC professional provide a tune-up before you need to turn the heater on. During their inspection, they will clean away dirt, dust, and other debris that has accumulated over the summer.

The technician further will check the air filters to see if they need to be cleaned or changed. Filters that are left in a clogged state will cause airflow issues within the system, leading to breakdowns and higher energy bills. A preseason tune-up saves you from that burning smell and higher bills.

Mechanical Smells

If you turn on your heating system and notice an odor that seems mechanical or electrical, the problem may be more complicated than a simple build-up of dirt and debris. Usually, these kinds of smells are associated with failing motors or frayed wiring.

These are parts of normal wear and tear on your heating system. Most newer heating models are equipped with safety features that will initiate an automatic shutdown if an electrical malfunction is detected. Whether your system is new or old, a mechanical or electrical smell is a certain sign that you need to have a technician examine your heater right away. You may be headed for a breakdown or even a fire.

When you call Delaware Heating and Air after detecting a mechanical smell in your home, ask for a repair diagnostic. Explain what you are smelling, and a trained HVAC technician will quickly come to your home to assess the heating system. This makes it possible to identify the precise source of the odor so that it can be fixed before considerable damage occurs.

Chemical Odors

Homes may be equipped with many different types of heating systems. These include heat pumps, furnaces, and boilers. While these systems are distinct from each other, they do have a few things in common. One of these is the presence of a heat exchanger that is central to the system.

The heating system undergoes a combustion process that emits carbon monoxide, which is a toxic gas. Accordingly, the heat exchanger is placed in a protective chamber that is supposed to prevent toxic gases from entering your indoor air, which keeps your family safe.

However, heat exchangers can develop cracks that impair their performance. Cracks can allow carbon monoxide and other dangerous gases to enter your home. When you notice a chemical or even a “fishy” odor after turning on your heating system, it’s definitely time to call Delaware Heating and Air.

Combustion fumes are undoubtedly bad for your health, so it is critical that you act quickly when you smell chemicals after turning on your heating system. It is possible that this smell is being caused by another issue that is less hazardous, but in these cases, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

A technician from Delaware Heating and Air will inspect your entire heating system. If the heat exchanger is the culprit, it can be replaced. This is a relatively expensive component, but it is covered by warranty. Just keep up with the once-a-year maintenance schedule by a professional to ensure that your warranty continues to be valid.

Rotten Egg Smells

You will only notice this odor if you have a gas furnace. Whenever you smell rotten eggs in your home, it is imperative that you evacuate immediately.

Natural gas is odorless but toxic. Companies that supply natural gas to consumers add a chemical called methyl mercaptan to it so that homeowners can quickly and easily detect a gas leak. When natural gas leaks, it gives off a distinct odor of rotten eggs.

Immediately leave your home if you smell rotten eggs. Call 911 to report a potential gas leak.

Some Smells Just Aren’t Normal

It is relatively common for homeowners to detect a slight burning scent when they turn on their heating system for the first time after months of not using it. A slight build-up of contaminants is responsible for this. It’s not an alarming situation, but you can easily avoid it by scheduling an HVAC maintenance visit before the cold weather arrives.

Other homeowners may be bothered by a musty or mildew-type smell when they turn on their heaters. If your home is starting to smell too much like dirty socks, this may be a sign that bacteria, mildew, or mold have built up in the ductwork or heating coils. This is an ongoing problem that is only reserved for people who have heat pump systems. That’s because furnaces typically get hot enough to kill the bacteria or other invaders relatively quickly. Heat pumps just do not produce as much heat. In fact, most heat pump coils reach a maximum of 105 to 130 degrees, making them the perfect habitat for growing microorganisms. This problem typically can be fixed just by cleaning or replacing the air filters. If it persists, then it’s time to call in a professional.

Most other smells that may come from your heating system are not as innocuous. Mechanical and chemical odors are a sign that something is wrong. Additionally, you might detect a smell that is reminiscent of burning plastic. This may be a sign that a component, like a capacitor or a fan belt, is worn out or that wiring insulation is melting. Burning smells also may indicate that you have an overheated blower motor.

Simply put, any weird odors that emanate from your heating system may have numerous causes. It is almost impossible to correctly diagnose the issue without having a professional do a thorough inspection of the system.

Contact Delaware Heating and Air

Did you get an unpleasant surprise when you turned on your home’s heating system for the first time this year? If so, rest assured that you are not alone. Many homeowners are dealing with similar issues.

That weird smell could be caused by a:

  • A buildup of dust and debris
  • Failing component
  • Cracked heat exchanger
  • Growth of mold, mildew, or bacteria
  • Gas leak

Some of these problems are not particularly serious, but others could put your life in danger. Whenever weird smells start emanating from your HVAC system, it’s time to call in the experts from Delaware Heating and Air.

Better yet, give us a call in the spring and autumn to have your HVAC system cleaned and maintained. This can prevent you from ever having to deal with unpleasant smells, and it also could save you from major repair bills down the road.

Contact Delaware Heating and Air today to have one of our experienced technicians inspect, clean, and maintain your heating system.