Common Heating System Odors and What to Do About Them

Common Heating System Odors and What to Do About ThemHeating system odors are a frequent complaint at this time of year. As cool weather approaches, seasonal start-up of the furnace takes place and the system that’s been idle since last spring heats up. There are good reasons to take heating system odors from a gas furnace seriously: natural gas is highly flammable, toxic to inhale, and the burner flame inside the unit generates heat at about 3,000 degrees, Fahrenheit.

Here’s a sample of unusual smells you may notice and what they usually mean:

Burning Paper

It typically occurs the first time you run the system in the fall. Usually, it’s short-lived and not a cause for concern. Dust accumulates on the furnace burner and heat exchanger over summer and burns off at seasonal start-up. If the furnace is running, this odor shouldn’t last more than a few hours, then dissipate. Consult your HVAC contractor if it persists.

Electrical Wiring Odor

This bitter smell is familiar to anyone who’s experienced an electrical overload or fried component. It could mean the furnace is over-heating and exposing internal control wires to damaging temperatures. It can also indicate a short circuit somewhere in the system. Turn the unit off at the thermostat and call for professional service.

Gas Leaking

The “rotten egg” odor of natural gas is deliberately formulated to be penetrating and difficult to ignore. Due to the risk of explosion and/or carbon monoxide poisoning caused by faulty combustion, it’s an important safety warning that requires immediate action. Don’t waste time attempting DIY troubleshooting. Turn the furnace off at the thermostat and leave the house, taking a cellphone to call the gas company first and your HVAC contractor next.

“New Furnace” Smell

Unfortunately, it’s not as cool as the scent of a brand new car. A newly installed furnace comes with oil coating on the internal heat exchanger to prevent rust. The first few times the new system fires up, you may notice a smell of burning oil as the coating burns off.

Get suspicious heating system odors checked out promptly by the pros at Paitson Bros., serving Terre Haute since 1922.

Our goal is to help educate our customers in Terre Haute, Indiana about energy and home comfort issues (specific to HVAC systems). For more information about heating systems and other HVAC topics, download our free Home Comfort Guide or call us at 812-645-6859. 

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    By Jeff Paitson
  • About Jeff

    Jeff Paitson Jeff Paitson is a third generation business owner who continues to run the business with the same values that have been passed down from previous generations since 1922.

    Jeff’s belief is that the business belongs to Jesus Christ; therefore 10 percent of the company’s profits go toward the Maryland Community Church.

    Jeff is a Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce member and in his spare time, he enjoys photography.
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  • About Ethan


    Ethan Ethan Rayburn is a lifelong resident of Terre Haute and a 2005 graduate of Purdue University.

    An Eagle Scout, Ethan spent four years as a non-profit executive with the Boy Scouts of America before joining Paitson Bros. as a comfort advisor and later General Manager. In that role, Ethan has brought a renewed enthusiasm for customer care, integrity, value, and service to Paitson Bros. Heating & Air Conditioning.

    Ethan enjoys singing and was a member of the Purdue Varsity Glee Club. He also enjoys playing and coaching soccer, spending time with his family and two young boys, and volunteering his time and resources with his church, Terre Haute First Baptist Church, which he has attended from a very young age.
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