If one day you notice that your water heater smells like burning, you’d be forgiven for thinking it could be time to call your local plumbing services. But before you do that, you may be surprised to learn that you can fix some of the issues that cause such smells yourself.
First things first, it’s important to identify the source of the smell and then try and figure out if the issue needs to be resolved immediately or whether it will go away by itself after some time. It all depends on the severity of the issue and what’s causing the heater burning smell.
In this article, we will take a look at some of the most common issues that can cause a burning smell from the heater and what you can do to fix the problem yourself. Admittedly, some issues will require heating repair services to come and take a look at it, but it’s worth checking if a spot of DIY won’t do the trick first.
Burning dust is by far the most common cause of a burning smell from the heater. This normally happens when the heater hasn’t been used for a long time. After a few weeks or months without use, dust and dirt settle on the heat exchanger, inside the furnace, and on the heating components.
When the winter months arrive, and you turn your heating on for the first time, the heating components ignite and burn off all of the residual dust and dirt that has been building up. This can give off a pretty bad burning smell, but fortunately, it should only linger for a couple of hours at most.
Once all of the dust and debris have burned up, the smell should eventually dissipate and return to normal. You don’t need to do anything other than open up a window and let the air pass through so you can rid your home of the odor as quickly as possible.
If you can smell burning plastic coming from your heater, then this is definitely something you need to investigate immediately. When plastic burns, it can give off toxic fumes that are dangerous to inhale.
What’s worse is your HVAC system could be circulating this harmful air throughout your house, potentially harming anybody that is in the building. To avoid this, shut off the heater as soon as you notice the smell and then try and figure out where the smell is coming from.
If your heater smells like burning plastic the chances are something has got lodged in there and is melting near the furnace or somewhere in the ductwork. There are stories of people finding all kinds of things lodged in there, from children’s toys to plastic bottles and everything in between.
Occasionally the plastic smell is due to some of the furnace parts breaking off or becoming worn out. If so, they need to be replaced before you restart your heater.
To fix this, you should check the heater to see if anything is lodged in or around it and then take a look in the ductwork to check for any plastic items that have found their way up there. If the smell persists, then you need to call your local AC repair to come and take a look before you can switch it back on.
Electrical issues are another common cause of burning smells coming from the water heater and should also be investigated immediately. A burning electrical smell is often a sign that there is a serious electrical fault somewhere that needs fixing promptly. Electrical issues are one of the most common causes of house fires in the USA, so if you think there is an issue, you should shut down the unit right away until you’ve discovered the cause of the bad smell.
Most water heaters should have a failsafe that initiates when it overheats or has a serious malfunction. If you suspect electrical burning in the heater, this means the safety feature has not worked and will likely continue causing damage until shut down. Here are some of the potential culprits:
- An overheating blower motor
- Cracked heater exchange
- Faulty or damaged wiring
Any one of these issues poses a very serious fire hazard. If you can’t notice and fix the issue yourself, you must call the heating repair services right away to amend the problem.
Oily or smoky smells
There are many different water heater types that your home could have, and one of them is an oil furnace. With these models, an oil reserve tank injects oil into the water heater’s combustion chamber. Once the fuel is lit, it heats up along a vertical coil inside the water tank, which then warms the tank’s water.
While these furnaces are renowned for their energy efficiency, they are known to create oily and smoky smells throughout the house from time to time. For the most part, this is completely normal, especially if it’s the first time you’re using the heater after a long period of time. However, you shouldn’t be able to smell any oil while your heater is on for anything longer than a few hours.
If you can smell a bad odor in your home when using an oil furnace, it could be due to an oil spill or leak in the heater, or it may mean it’s time to do an oil change. If the oil isn’t replaced in a while, it will cause issues and result in your heater malfunctioning.
Furthermore, oil-water heaters produce exhaust gases that need to be vented to the outside of the building. Sometimes there can be defects with the vent, which results in some of these fumes emitting throughout your home, creating a bad odor and a potentially harmful one.
If the oily smell persists for longer than a few hours, try replacing the oil and checking for leaks. If this doesn’t resolve the issue, it’s time to call the heating repair services.
Musty or moldy smells
A common complaint people report when using their heater in the wintertime is musty or moldy smells. Once again, this is pretty common when the heating system has been lying dormant for several months and should go away in due course. However, this could also mean that your HVAC system requires maintenance.
Most of the time, bad odors such as these result from clogged and dirty air filters that need replacing. Filters should be changed out at least once every 2-3 months, but if you use your system regularly, have pets, or smoke indoors, then once per month is ideal.
The filter is responsible for removing dust, dirt, bacteria, and allergens in the air. Once the filter becomes clogged, it can no longer do its job, and more often than not, results in musty or moldy air circulating the home. As you might expect, this is not exactly ideal breathing air, so you should switch off the system and change the filters as soon as possible.
Rotten egg or a sulfur smell
Finally, a rotten egg or sulfur smell is usually a sign of a more sinister problem in the home, a gas leak. This is nothing to be messed with, so if you notice such a smell coming from your heater, you must turn it off immediately (as well as the appliances in your home) and call the heating repair services. You should get out of the house and refrain from breathing this air as it could be toxic and harmful to your lungs.
The best way to find the solution to the burning smell from your heater is to follow your nose and locate the source of the issue. Most of the time, a bad odor from your heater is a normal occurrence that we experience when we turn it on for the first time in a few months and should go away by itself in a few hours.
However, if the smell persists and you can’t fix the issue with the steps listed above, then you should call your heating repair services to take a closer look.