During the winter, the fire department receives lots of calls from people reporting that they have a burning smell in their house, but no fire. That burning smell might be coming from your heater, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to panic. Here are a few common reasons why your heater smells like it’s burning.

1. You haven’t used it in a while

When you turn your system to heat after it’s been off for several months, it’s relatively common for the heat strips to emit a burning smell. This happens because dust settles and builds up on the electrical heating strips while you are not using it. When you turn the heater on again, the dust begins to burn. This problem should correct itself relatively quickly. All the dust will burn away, and then the smell will be gone.

2. The filter is clogged

A clogged filter could result in a burning smell, because it allows dust to move through the air handler/furnace. The dust burns, causing that unpleasant smell. Be sure that you are replacing your filters regularly in order to avoid this problem. A filter one inch thick needs to be changed about every month, and a five inch thick Air Bear Filter needs to be changed about every six months. You can also use reusable filters which can be cleaned and then put back in the air handler. This option can save you money on replacements, but make sure you are cleaning just as regularly as you would be replacing, once every month.

What should I do if my heater smells like it’s burning

If you find that the typical smell does not subside after a few minutes, it’s time to call a professional to figure out what’s wrong. If you smell gas, call professional help right away; do not wait.

How can I prevent problems with my heater?

First and foremost, make sure to change your air filter on a consistent basis. An air handler/furnace that is not maintained regularly can be dangerous, and can also be inefficient, so you might be paying more for your heat unnecessarily. Regular inspections of your heating unit and AC system will keep you and your family safe, and ensure that you are paying the least amount of money possible to heat your home.